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In policy debate and becoming increasingly common in Lincoln–Douglas debates, generally speaking, a kritik usually challenges a certain mindset, assumption, or discursive element that exists within the advocacy of the opposing team, often from the perspective of critical theory.

The kritik is derived from the German word Kritik, meaning critique and traditionally pronounced as "critique", and often abbreviated as K. It is often spelled in normal English as critique or is sometimes called a criticism, and takes the adjective form kritikal (meaning and pronounced as "critical"). A kritik usually incorporates evidence derived from all relevant branches of philosophical literature in which each piece or card of evidence is usually substantiated in analysis.

Usage in debate and history[edit]

A kritik can either be deployed by the negative team to challenge the affirmative advocacy or by the affirmative team to indict the status quo or the negative advocacy. Although many teams in pre-merger Cross Examination Debate Association debates advocated philosophical objections to plans and resolutions for several years prior to the advent of the "Kritik," the argument was more self-consciously developed by NDT teams at The University of Texas, coached by Bill Shanahan. Shanahan and Shane Stafford created the anarchism CP (counterplan) that at the end had a vote neg (vote negative argument) on ontology and this started labor movements leading to an existing "single-citizen" argumentation paradigm which called for the judge to vote a single citizen's conscience rather than adopting the role of the federal government.

In general, kritiks have been universally accepted in National Circuit (Tournament of Champions) debate and most inter-collegiate policy debate, and less accepted in particular regions of National Forensic League debate, especially by new, or "lay" judges. It is unclear whether this is due to a problem intrinsic to the structure of the kritik, or simply poor explanation. Kritiks are also increasingly popular in the National Parliamentary Debate Association. They have even begun to be used in the lay-judge dominated International Public Debate Association, using a more easy-to-understand articulation of the basic kritik structure.

The Shanahan kritik is more of a decision calculus than the kritiks which emerged on the college circuit in the early 1990s on the nature of language's intrinsic ambiguity. Early innovators of the kritik included CEDA teams from Cal State-Chico, Southwestern College (Kansas) and the University of Missouri-Kansas City. These pre-merger debaters combined elements of traditional "value objection" and criteria-based non-policy arguments with postmodern, metaphysical, and philosophical perspectives to create a powerful, though often amorphous, negative strategy. Though kritiks are now found generally in policy debate, their usage is also increasingly found in Lincoln–Douglas debate and NPDA and NPTE parliamentary debate.


The structure of the kritik is generally similar to that of the disadvantage in that it includes a link and an impact or implication. Unlike the disadvantage, however, it excludes uniqueness and includes an alternative. This structure has inspired some in the debate community to question whether a kritik is "just a non-unique disadvantage." Disadvantages, however, usually assume a consequentialist/utilitarian paradigm of impact analysis, while kritiks employ different decision-making frameworks. There is, however, no hard and fast rule regarding the structure of a kritik. In fact, a rejection of traditional argument structure may actually be at the very heart of kritiks. The "reductionism" kritik utilized by Southwestern College in the early 90s, for instance, maintained that the cartesian, linear thinking patterns utilized in academic debate were sufficiently damaging to warrant rejection.


It is usually assumed that a kritikal link, unlike a disadvantage link, need not be unique; that is, the team putting forward the kritik (almost always the negative) need not prove that the impacts claimed by the argument could not be triggered by the status quo—that the affirmative does not uniquely lead to the impact. Instead, the typical kritikal link is one of re-entrenching the philosophy or mindset to be criticized by the argument, be it biopower/biopolitics, racism, militarism, realism in international relations, patriarchy, statism, imperialism/Orientalism, capitalism, gendered language, or other objectionable systems of thought and action.

Impact or implication[edit]

The kritikal impact or implication varies depending on the nature of the kritik. Kritiks of such things as biopower, militarism, and capitalism often argue that the indicted concept justifies nuclear war, genocide, and totalitarianism. Other kritiks, such as those of language, racism, and those advocating Objectivism typically claim deontological impacts; that is, the positive effects of the affirmative are unimportant compared to the ethical damage it does. However, these are generalities and, for instance, a kritik of biopower may simply argue that, from a deontological perspective, a judge has a moral imperative to reject biopower.


The alternative is the core of what separates the kritik from being just a highly philosophical linear disadvantage. The alternative is generally supposed to provide an advocacy other than that which the affirmative has put forward; however, the alternative tends to "reject the criticized philosophy" or "reject the affirmative." More substantive alternatives exist however; a kritik which takes the position of Ayn Rand's Objectivism might include "adopt the Objectivist program" as the alternative.

Criticism of the kritik[edit]

The validity of kritiks in policy debate is not universally accepted. Some arguments which indict their validity include:

  • De-emphasis on topic related research. In a 1996 Rostrum article G. William Bennett states: "Kritiks discourage research on the topic, decrease the variety of cases and attacks, and substitute in their place an increased emphasis on deconstructing ideas and language."
  • Reduced pedagogical value of debate. Bennett continues: "The constructive and more encompassing nature of policy clash increases the discussion of multiple ideas and is more educationally worthwhile."
  • Unfair burden on judges to decide appropriateness of affirmative policy plan. Some argue that kritiks (when offered without an alternative) put judges in situations where articulating a fair winner is impossible because the judge is asked to "eat" the affirmative case's harms in order to endorse the Kritik's ethical position.
  • Evidence in Kritiks is generally taken from critical philosophy, and as a result of having to fit into orally read, limited time speeches, the evidence is piecemeal and taken largely out of context and represents incomplete and often wildly inaccurate caricatures of the views of the actual authors. The reason that the authors involved write whole books is because they need whole books to be complete and clear.

Supporters of kritik argumentation suggest that not all of these indictments are unique to kritiks, meaning that they apply to the traditional debate arguments as well, and that a kritik is just another argument which must be researched and prepared for. They also point out the specificity of many kritiks in relation to policy comparison and implementation (such as Foucault's contributions to our understanding of mental health care or Agamben's relevant contributions to civil liberties). Many of those that believe in the validity of kritik argumentation also argue that because many kritiks indict particularly bad assumptions that the other team has made, there is often no need for an explicitly stated alternative to the other team's offending advocacy. For instance, if the negative has proven that the affirmative's 1AC is racist, then why does the negative need any alternative beyond 'don't advocate racism,' or 'reject racist assumptions'? (The alternative, racial tolerance, is implied by the nature of the question.) Those who are skeptical of the ultimate value of kritikal debate focus on positions that are not as cut and dried as racism or sexism. Many in the debate community can appreciate when kritikal debate is done well, but also believe that it is an extremely rare occurrence.

The JAMs, an esoteric offshoot of Discordianism, recognizes kritik' as the reductio ad absurdum of formal debate, and indeed, all logical argumentation. By engaging in the repeated, obsessive deconstruction of any reasoned argument about the matter at hand, practitioners reach a state of satori wherein they simultaneously understand both the Truth and Not-Truth of the Affirmative, as well as the Truth and Not-Truth of the Negative.

The kritikal affirmative[edit]

The realm of the kritik has extended beyond the negative argument into the region of the affirmative case. The kritikal affirmative seeks advantages which fix (in the jargon of debate, "solve for") impacts and concepts which are attached to the negative argument of the kritik.

The kritik affirmative actually had its beginnings on the NDT college circuit at least as early as 1998, and probably earlier. Emory University, for example, during the South East Asia topic ran a plan to recover landmines under the auspices of an existentialism overview.[citation needed] Harvard likewise ran a hate crimes affirmative three years prior to that (1995) that claimed "rhetorical" advantages. These were both well before the oceans topic referred to above. Given the widespread use of philosophical argumentation throughout the 1990s, however, it is difficult to determine with any accuracy when the FIRST kritik affirmative was born, and, therefore, one should caution against attempting to pin such a title to any one debate.

Answering the kritik[edit]

Kritik arguments are typically answered in a particular sequence, but this sequence can vary depending on the desire of the debater to conform to the paradigm of his/her critic.

Framework arguments:

Depending on the specific type of kritik, debaters will often refute its framework. Examples of common framework arguments include:

No articulated framework – the critiquing team has failed to meet an obligation for describing an alternative method for evaluating the round;
Framework turn – attempts to flip the theoretical basis of the argument and win that it is a functional reason to reject the kritik;
Alternative frameworks are illegitimate – the Affirmative team has the right to frame the round to protect ground and research;
and Framework permutations, which test whether or not the critical basis of the argument is functionally competitive with the case/Affirmative advocacy. According to more traditional negation theory, if the affirmative team wins the framework permutation they will usually moot the substantive debate on the criticism, because if it is possible to conform to the Negative’s framework while passing the Affirmative plan there is no logical reason to reject the Affirmative.

Link arguments: Similar to a disadvantage, a critical link functions as a way of connecting a plan or advocacy, or particular language choice (as the case may be) with a set of impacts that are uniquely caused by a lack of acceptance of the Alternative. Some link arguments are based on "omission" or refusing to include a specific idea or event in the affirmative plan and therefore excluding the topic of the kritik. Another example of a link argument is a representations link. This link argues that the way the affirmative has represented itself throughout the debate has proven the argument. Reciprocally, Affirmatives can make a variety of arguments on a link.[1]

Impact arguments: Just like the link arguments, impact arguments can be made to diminish the magnitude, certainty, and in some cases, the severity of the impacts of a kritik. Impact argumentation is usually the solution to the problem of too much defense and too little offense. Impact turns, which argue that the impact is actually a positive effect, are a typical offense oriented response to impact analysis. This however is a weak strategy when faced with an impact of structural violence, genocide, or racism because it only feeds into the link argument if the affirmative team rebuts the impact by saying "racism is good".

Alternative arguments: In cases where a negative team has an alternative to their kritik The alternative is typically answered by claims that the alternative cannot solve for the case's harms, meaning like a Counterplan it has a tangible solvency deficit. Other options include arguing that the alternative (or the critiquing teams discourse) also links to the kritik and "counter kritiks." Counter kritiks are independent criticisms of the alternative and function has offense answers that are not turns. They also follow kritik structure, though often in a much more compact format and use the affirmative plan as an alternative. Another tactic when rebutting alternative arguments is to use theoretical claims against them like "utopian alternatives are bad". The alternative is typically the weakest point of the kritik because it either allows too much fiat for the negative team, or doesn't solve the impact to the kritik.

In cases where the critiquing team has not offered an alternative, it is often argued that the kritik represents the status quo and the affirmative will argue that the negative has to win arguments proving that inaction is the best option win order to negate the case harms.

Permutations: Permutations are abbreviated "perm" in debate parlance. Perms either test whether or not the alternative of the kritik is competitive (trades off) with the advocacy of the Affirmative or present a 3rd option merger of the two positions that the affirmative might choose to advocate. The latter is often subject to claims of abuse by the negative team. Affirmative speakers make strategic decisions about deploying permutations based on the needs of winning the round overall and claims made by the negative team about the legitimacy of the perm.


  1. ^ Bruschke, Jon. "THE DEBATE BIBLE". Retrieved 25 July 2012. 

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