"The Need for Research," Revisited

Matthew Brigham


As part of a special issue aimed at reflecting on the one-hundred-year anniversary of the establishment of the communication discipline and what the earliest issues of its flagship journal, The Quarterly Journal of Public Speaking, could tell us about issues still confronting intercollegiate debate now, this essay examines James A. Winans’ (1915) “The Need for Research.” It argues that, whereas for Winans the exigence was enhancing academic prestige for speech teachers among their fellow, more established university colleagues, at stake now is the intercollegiate debate community’s academic prestige in communication departments and the broader university. Whereas in 1915, many of the leaders of the emerging discipline were also leaders in the debate and forensics community, pressures of “sportification” have driven debate teachers and coaches away from devoting substantial energies toward practices of research and publication. By offering an ecosystem metaphor, this essay argues that an arrangement of “non-relation” between debate and academics puts the former in peril and limits the potential growth of the latter; that a parasitic relationship (most notably, of debate seeking money and other resources) likely leads to the end of their support by such departments; and that only a symbiotic approach, where both parties contribute to each other in ways that both see, understand, and respect offers a viable future for debate and a future filled with greater opportunities for communication departments and universities as a whole.

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