A Call for Framework Debate by Dino De La O

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This article advances the argument that framework determines every impact in the debate, which pushes back on the authority of Affirmative Framework Choice and theoretically justified frameworks. By framework, I mean the metric used to evaluate which impacts matter. This article will argue that framework goes beyond making a claim over the substance of the resolution and should be considered the primary framing metric to evaluate arguments concerning our practices in debate, placing framework on a higher level than the role of the ballot or the voter on a theory shell. The debate aspect is also important. A debate implies a competition between ideas and framework is a metric to weigh between those ideas whether they be substantive or theoretical. The judge should evaluate substantive and theoretical arguments through the lens of the winning framework and should only enact extra-judicial power when the debate ceases to be a competition between ideas. If a debater’s actions no longer compete with an opponent’s arguments but enact direct violence through, for example, slurs or even physical violence, the judge has the authority to respond. In many cases, it can become difficult to detect when violence has occurred. The purpose of this article is not when the judge should intervene or how the judge should respond but rather to highlight the role of framework in conditioning everything else that qualifies as a competitive argument.

A framework is normative, it makes a judgment over what we ought to do. It is a mistake to only associate framework debate with authors such as Kant. Framework debate includes different kinds of K debate that are often seen as distinct such as debates over high theory or critical race theory. Both categories and many more often get left out and belong to the realm of framework debate as they make normative judgements over what we ought to do, even in cases such as anti-ethics. Framework debate is a debate over which prescriptions matter between a range of philosophies or anti-philosophies. Even the debate in favor of concrete action over theorization of philosophy requires normative prescription.

Since frameworks are normative, they have the capacity to lay claim to our obligations in the debate space. Just like we apply frameworks to resolutions, different frameworks will have different conclusions over the good and what should be permitted in debate. This latter component, “what should be permitted in debate”, is commonly known as the role of the ballot or voters on a theory shell. My argument is that absent of a well-grounded framework the judgement over what should be permitted in debate becomes empty of content. This is because the role of the ballot, voters, or the judgement over what should be permitted in debate is an implication of the framework, not the source of normative authority. Too often debaters solely rely on role of the ballots which go only far enough to say that “debate is an educational space and the judge should be a critical interrogator of x practice.” They contain no account of the subject, the source of normativity, or the scope of obligations. The omissions become more evident on the theory debate. At the end of the day, solely relying on the logic of an implication leads one to assume premises for their justification.

Not only do these faux frameworks falsely assume their ground, but we should fear their pervasiveness in debate. Debate is becoming a space for neoliberalism where mostly rich white teenagers get to role-play revolutionary. It is absurd to believe that we should bracket off certain questions for a normative framework because “we know what the problem is and we should fight against it” as if the intuitions of these bourgeoisie kids have the answers to the questions over the good that people have been battling over for thousands of years. Such approaches ignore the historically changing definition of oppression and fall back to a stereotypical model of activism that will only reify and order and render certain peoples experience as insufficient. These approaches also discredit the hundreds of critical theorists who have battled over the limits of structural violence, identity politics, and activism and the ongoing debate in the literature.

The call for framework debate does not envision a particular form of debate. What the judge should permit is answered by the winning framework. Rigorous justification does not prevent a focus on deconstructing systems of oppression but is what makes the account meaningful across difference in experience. Anything else assumes a model of debate as intuitively superior and stigmatizes the experience of others or gives the judge too much power to arbitrarily determine the good for debate. The judge should not advance their own model of activism, thereby reifying a subjective order of what debate should be and establishing a disproportionate power relationship between the judge and the student, and instead should evaluate what ought to be permitted in debate through the winning framework. To clarify, this does not prevent the judge from intervening when the debate ceases to be a competition between ideas. In this case, intervention does not reify a disproportionate power relationship between the judge and the student but only functions to resist a disproportionate power relationship between one debater and another. Again, when and how judges should intervene is a discussion saved for later, but examples such as physical violence clearly help us see the scope of our obligations as judges who evaluate competitive arguments versus judges who protect students from direct violence.

The model of debate advanced in this article has certain implications for how we should understand the interaction between Ks and theory. If K debate is included in framework debate, and if framework debate also determines what should be permitted in debate, this effectively conflates certain K and theory practices. For example, many debaters argue that “K outweighs theory” or that “K takes out rule-following.” We have seen this with Ks anywhere from Wilderson to Deleuze. My argument would suggest that both examples are misspeaking. Every prescriptive theory of the good has the capacity to lay claim on what we ought to permit in debate since debate is only an enterprise of ethical life. The concept of a K taking out rule-following itself makes a claim over what should be permitted in debate. Hence, even an extreme conclusion of this nature, which is likely the work of a misapplication since any theory of the good logically isolates prohibitions proven by the link and alternative, does not take out theory but only justifies “counter-interpretation: debaters may set any end.” The framework comes to substitute for the counter-interpretation’s voter and the framework interaction occurs between the K’s philosophy and fairness/education. This model blurs the distinction between a pre-fiat K and a theory shell. Both require a well-grounded framework and both make appeals to what should be permitted in debate outside of the substance of the resolution. If the negative reads a pre-fiat K and the affirmative reads a 1AR theory shell, K does not categorically take out or precede theory and vice versa. The weighing occurs between competing views of the good or between the strength of link into the winning view of the good. Hence, “K outweighs theory” or vice versa is a misnomer.

Post fiat K’s with topical links and alternatives that compete with the resolution function more like counter-plans in that they adjudicate the substance of the resolution. If both debaters accepted my model of debate and agreed on a framework to evaluate the substance and theory debate, then the negative could read a post fiat K with an impact to the framework and the affirmative could read a 1AR theory shell with an internal link to the framework. In this case, we might see the K and theory on distinct layers even if they function under the same framework and that’s because they are! The theory shell speaks to our practices in debate and the K answers the substance of the resolution. If the framework’s implication for debate concludes that concerns over our practices in debate precede the substance of the resolution, one would side with the theory shell. If the framework’s implication for debate is only concerned with answering the substance of the resolution via its framing metric, one would side with the K. These debates become more complex when you add competing frameworks on competing layers.

With all of this in mind, the arguments against Affirmative Framework Choice and theoretically justified frameworks become quite simple. Affirmative Framework Choice and theoretically justified frameworks justify ethical conclusions by appealing to theory voters. If my argument follows, the voter is only properly justified by a framework of its own. This has a couple of implications. Insufficient accounts of obligations such as “no one would participate if debate was unfair” or “schools only fund debate because its educational” cannot justify binding obligations in virtue of their failure to take certain necessary stances on questions over the good. Affirmative Framework Choice or a theoretically justified framework with a poor voter becomes easily outweighed by a more developed account of ethical life and its implications for the debate space. Finally, if these accounts do become more rigorous and answer necessary questions over the good, they would already be justifying an account of ethical life which makes the appeal to Affirmative Framework Choice or a theoretically justified framework inefficient and potentially contradictory. Framed in this way, the strategic incentives of being able to sidestep framework challenges with Affirmative Framework Choice and theoretically justified frameworks only become disadvantages against the framework debater. What is needed is a deeper investment into questions over the good.

Debate over the good should be rigorous and ongoing. This does not preclude concrete action. We inevitably must act, but we should recognize that in doing so we discriminate. When we choose to act based on a certain principle of the good, we exclude competing principles as relevant considerations. This does not preclude ethical action but serves as a condition of action whatsoever and calls for the responsibility to theorize between one’s options before acting. But because we lack perfect knowledge and the ability to determine the future, no matter how much we theorize, we will always act under conditions of uncertainty. This calls for a praxis between theory and action. We should theorize before acting to reduce stereotypical activism, answer the call to act based on our momentary conclusion of the good, and reflect over the exclusion of the choice to influence future actions. We should be frightened by those who close off the possibility of philosophical inquiry and claim to have the answer. In doing so, the bourgeoisie revolutionary also plays the role of a transcendent being, calculating the future and authoritatively excluding certain experiences from the possibility of legitimacy.


UT Austin’20

Dino De La O debated for four years at Law Magnet in Dallas and graduated in 2016. As a competitor, he qualified to the TOC his junior and senior years. During his senior year, he received 7 bids to the TOC, championed the University of Houston tournament, was the top speaker and semifinalist at the Grapevine and Strake Jesuit tournaments, and advanced to the elimination rounds of every octos bid tournament he attended. As a coach last year, four of his students qualified to the TOC, one of them championed the Sunvitational, and another finished in octofinals of the TOC. This current season, his students have so far accumulated 10 bids to the TOC, championed Yale, championed the Valley RR, and finaled Bronx.


Dino De La O