Topicality (policy debate)
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Topicality is a stock issue in policy debate which pertains to whether or not the plan affirms the resolution as worded. To contest the topicality of the affirmative, the negative interprets a word or words in the resolution and argues that the affirmative does not meet that definition, that the interpretation is preferable, and that non-topicality should be a voting issue.
- 1 Structure of a Violation
- 2 Commonly used Standards
- 3 Commonly asserted voting issues
- 4 Affirmative answers to Topicality
- 5 References
Structure of a Violation
A topicality violation, as presented in the 1NC, is generally as follows:
- Interpretation - Interpretation of a word or words in the resolution, often supported by evidence. Evidence to support an interpretation can come from virtually any source (dictionary, legal dictionary, academic paper, laws, court rulings, etc.) and emphasis is placed on both the desirability of the interpretation and the quality of the evidence which supports the interpretation.
- Violation - Reason(s) why the plan does not meet the interpretation.
- Standards - Reason(s) why the interpretation is superior.
- Voting Issue - Reason(s) why the judge should vote negative if the plan does not meet the interpretation.
Commonly used Standards
Limits are a measure of how many cases would be topical under a given interpretation of the topic and whether that cleavage of cases is predictable. Teams will often debate the desirability of having a small or large number of topical cases.
Ground is a measure of the quantity and quality of arguments and literature available to both teams under a certain interpretation of the topic. Teams will often debate the desirability of incorporating or excluding certain arguments.
Brightline (sometimes called precision) is a measure of how clear the division is between topical and non-topical cases under a certain interpretation.
Grammar is a measure of how grammatically correct an interpretation is. Some teams argue that grammar is key to the predictability of an interpretation.
An Education standard asserts that the negative's interpretation of the resolution focuses the debate down to the most important area(s) for learning. This involves explaining why the topics and discussions preserved by the negative's interpretation are more important to the affirmative case and cases under the counterinterpretation.
Effects (FX) Topicality
Effects topicality alleges that the Affirmative team is not topical in its direct mandate(s) or intent, but only arrives at alleviating the Harms introduced by the Affirmative team typically associated with the topic through a variety of internal links. An example might be a case under a topic about limiting the use or stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction that declares war on North Korea or Iran. The Negative team would argue that such a case would only possibly be topical if it could be proven beyond a doubt not only that Iran or North Korea had weapons of mass destruction but also if such a war did not increase global proliferation pressures or involve the eventual use of weapons of mass destruction or did not lead to looting of such stockpiles, all very tendentious assumptions.
Negative teams will typically argue that such plans drastically abuse the resolution (i.e. allow too wide of a variety of cases to be run). Any case or plan could fall under the topic if enough causal links are allowed, and in running a Topicality attack, the Negative team states topicality should be decided based on a strict reading of the Affirmative plan text (whether or not it takes the stock issue of solvency into account). Affirmative teams will either argue that they are not effectual, that the plan's mandate directly falls under the rubric of the topic (though they may continue to claim remote advantages not typically associated with topical cases), or that effects topicality is acceptable.
Extra-topicality is sometimes run in conjunction with FX, sometimes separately. The argument is that the Affirmative plan includes "planks" or components that are not topical. For example, a plan under an energy-conservation topic might both sign the Kyoto Protocol and increase general science funding across the board, obviously including energy conservation. Such a plan might then argue for environmental, economic or military benefits separate from anything having to do with energy conservation. A Negative team would argue that this would be extra-topical because the plan is acting in areas that are outside the boundaries of the resolution (therefore, "extra"-topicality). Either seriously or as an example, sometimes Negatives running against FX and Extra cases will run counterplans that they argue would be the truly topical version of the Affirmative plan: For example, the Negative in the above case could run a counterplan wherein they only sign Kyoto. Negative teams will argue that the whole plan's mandate must be topical, as otherwise every Affirmative could run a different permutation of topical and non-topical components and make the topic literally unlimited. Affirmative teams will either argue that extra-topicality is legitimate or, much more frequently, that all components of their plan are in fact topical. A plan can arguably be extra-topical, not topical and FX-topical all at once: Its arguably topical plank may both not be topical no matter the causal links and rely on causal links to get to its arguable topicality, as well as having non-topical planks.
Commonly asserted voting issues
Under the competing interpretations framework, if the negative presents a better interpretation than the affirmative's (which the affirmative does not meet), the negative wins. In other words, the affirmative's burden is to meet the best interpretation in the round. The usual affirmative answer is "reasonability", that is, that if the affirmative meets a good definition of the topic, the affirmative wins the debate, even if it isn't the best definition of the topic. In other words, the affirmative's burden is to meet some interpretation in the round that is sufficiently good.
Some teams argue that it is unfair for the negative to have to debate a non-topical case and thus the judge should vote against one. This voting issue is sometimes referred to as "competitive equity."
Some Negative teams argue that non-topical cases decrease the educational factor of a round. This is true. However, it should not constitute a real argument in and of itself; simply because the Affirmative team's plan is not the best provides no reason for the judge to vote against the Affirmative team.
Some teams argue that the judge only has the jurisdiction to vote for cases which affirm the resolution. This justification has largely fallen out of favor in collegiate debate after the 2001-2002 Native Americans topic led to large numbers of kritiks about how it was the issue and mindset of jurisdiction that destroyed Native American culture.
Affirmative answers to Topicality
Affirmatives can deploy a variety of answers to topicality violations in the 2AC. They can be generally categorized as follows:
- We Meet - The affirmative can argue that their case meets the negative's interpretation of the resolution
- Counter-interpretation - The affirmative can offer a different interpretation of the word or words that the negative defined. The affirmative will usually argue that their interpretation is superior using the same standards outlined above, they can either use the standards that the negative used or present counterstandards.
- Non-voter - The affirmative can argue that the judge shouldn't vote negative even if they don't meet the negative's interpretation. This argument may be phrased as "reasonability", that the judge should accept the affirmative's case if it meets a reasonable interpretation of the resolution.
- Kritik - The affirmative can make critical arguments as to why topicality is an unnecessary and oppressive burden placed upon the affirmative.
- Reverse Voting Issue (RVI) - The affirmative can claim that the topicality argument offered by the negative is abusive in its own right and justifies an affirmative ballot. Few judges find this argument persuasive.
- Reasonability - The affirmative will argue that their plan does a "good enough" job of meeting the resolution and that it is unwarranted to reject them outright. They will argue that the negative has to prove that it has become impossible to prepare and argue against the affirmative's case. This is used to answer competing interpretations.
- Prager, John. "Introduction to Policy Debate, Chapter 11". Retrieved 7 April 2012.
- Cheshier, David. (2002). Extending Topicality Arguments. Rostrum. Retrieved December 30, 2005.