Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The PF Debate Case: Theory and Practice - part 2

For more on Public Forum topics, click here.


In part 1, I discussed why the Con must establish an advocacy as opposed to only a refutation of the Pro position.  In most NFL districts (but apparently, not all), Public Forum speaker positions are decided by a coin-flip and it is possible for the Con to speak first without fully knowing what the Pro will choose to advocate.  It makes sense Con will need to have a case which builds a position independently from the Pro since there is no presumption for the Con.  Simply refuting the other side, is not necessarily establishing a position so it forces the listener to surmise a position for Con at best or at worse, the listener may assume a default presumption for Pro since there is no alternative position on which to establish a decision.

Until now, I have focused the discussion on the Con but one should not think the points I am about to make only apply to Con.  They work equally well for the Pro because both sides should advocate a position.  So part 2 of this topic will apply to what I call the Pro-pro speech (proponent of the Pro position) and the Pro-con speech (proponent of the Con position).

Why We Believe...

Whether you are Pro or Con, your constructive speech must establish a position of advocacy on either side of the resolution.  You will, in so many words say, we believe or support...'something' with respect to the resolution.  This is the principle claim or thesis of your advocacy.  It is not enough to say, we believe the other guys are wrong.  That comes later.  When you explain by analysis why you believe or support what you do, you build an advocacy which must be grounded in evidence or common knowledge.

The Role of The Framework

To create the grounds for advocacy, it is useful and perhaps in some cases, essential to establish a framework which defines the basis of your case.  There is a good chance you have a framework whether you call it that or not and indeed you may build a framework for your advocacy without actually saying, "our framework is..." so as not to create confusion for judges who are not accustomed to debate jargon.  Framework is, in my opinion, the use of common rhetorical devices which clarify your arguments and will usually take two principle forms.  First, is an interpretive framework in which you can explain your interpretation of the resolution through definitions of terms and an analysis of how your interpretation of the resolution is the basis for your case.  Second is a comparative framework in which you will contrast the differences between your claims and potential or actual claims of the opponent and show why your claims are more important or relevant. The comparative framework may also be called a value framework since the comparison will often place a relative value on the claims being compared (i.e. more just, more fair, etc).   In PF debate, the speeches are short so the framework needs to be concise and clear as a way of justifying why you make your claims with the majority of the case built upon the actual work of proving your claims are true (why we believe/support...).


Solvency deals with the idea your case should discuss why your point of view provides solutions to the perceived problems derived from the resolution. Not every case will be able to make solvency claims.  When a case can make solvency claims they will fall into two types.  One: with some resolutions your case will present solutions for one set of problems and the opponent's case another set of problems.  Or two: your case and your opponent's case will present solutions for the same problems.  Either way, you will likely want to present your case within a comparative framework and as part of your analysis explain why the listener should place higher value on your solutions.  The framework and solvency work together this way.  First, create a comparative framework in which you explain why your certain kinds of problem solving should be valued over another.  For example, explain how preference should be given to solutions which cost less, or uphold democratic principles, or some such.  Then present your solutions and explain how they fit the framework of being least cost or most democratic or whatever the framework demands as a basis for preferring your solutions over the opponent's solutions. Throughout the debate, continue to reinforce the idea while explaining how your opponent's case fails to meet the criteria of your framework.


An advantage is a claimed benefit that can arise through the acceptance of your case or implementing some facet of your case. Indeed, solving a problem is an advantage but it is not the idea I want to convey for this discussion.  In Public Forum debate I would like to introduce the idea that advantages are benefits that can arise after the solvency.  It is best explained by illustration.  Let's say your case advocates reducing carbon emissions as a way of mitigating the effects of global warming.  You get the obvious direct benefits which may result from reduced greenhouse gases.  Your case then solves a problem (or at least mitigates a problem).  But, in this case, as a result of that action, there may be other benefits you can claim - these are the advantages.  For example, you may claim that by the U.S. taking a proactive step it is able to reassert its leadership in world-affairs and this can be beneficial to other things, such as generating cooperation in solving clean-water solutions or reducing energy dependence or saving the rain-forests. When advantages are used in a comparative framework which urges preference to your advantages, they can be another tool in your case arsenal.  However, care must be given to keep your solvency as the core to achieving the advantages otherwise you risk becoming non-topical.


Disadvantages are the opposite of advantages.  Where advantages are benefits arising from solvency, disadvantages are harms arising from the opponent's solvency.  Some may think of disadvantages as a kind of refutation of claims since they can be used that way after you fully understand what the opponent's case is advocating.  Used in this sense, the disadvantage "turns" the opponent's solution by explaining how the opponent's solution will result in bad things the opponent has not revealed to the listener.  For example, yes, we could decide to build sea-walls in low-lying areas to mitigate flooding due to global warming, but we will drive the country over the cliff to bankruptcy; an obvious disadvantage.  This approach works after the opponent's case is known and only works so long as you do not offer solutions which lead to the same disadvantage.

There is a way to use disadvantages as part of your advocacy and not as a refutation of the opponent's case.  What you need to do is find disadvantages that can only arise as a consequence of accepting the principle of the opponent's case and explain how your side avoids the disadvantage.  Thus, avoiding the disadvantage becomes an advantage for your side.  For example, with the resolution, "developed countries have a moral obligation to mitigate the effects of global warming", Con can reasonably assume the Pro will advocate some kind of spending to mitigate the effects.  Con can build a disadvantage scenario which preempts the Pro case by saying something to the effect, "our research shows (cite evidence as required) that effective mitigation will require large expenditures which will bankrupt the E.U. and the U.S.  Our case avoids financial disaster by showing how developed countries have already taken fiscally responsible steps toward managing (not mitigating) the effects of global warming...".  Of course, such a scenario only works if your case truly avoids the spending disadvantage.  The main thing you need to remember, in order to create an advantage out of a harm your opponent creates, is to show very clearly the only way to avoid the disadvantage is side with your case.  Once again, do not say, we must avoid the opponent's disadvantage.  That is refutation.  Rather, say, the only way to avoid the opponent's disadvantage is accept our position.  Now it is advocacy.

See part 1 for the bibliography.  In addition, the following sources were referenced when researching this topic:

Bro. Kevin M. Tidd, Framing the Issue: Helping Public Forum Debaters Develop Case Frameworks, Rostrum, 2011
Josh Zoffler, Framework In Public Forum, National Debate Forum, Summit Debate, 2011

No comments:

Post a Comment

Feel free to leave comments relevant to the topics and activity of competitive high school debate. However, this is not a sounding board for your personal ideologies, abusive or racist commentary or excessive inappropriate language. Everyday Debate blog reserves the right to delete any comments it deems inappropriate.