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Author Topic: A Note About Disclosure  (Read 3118 times)
Paul Elliott Johnson
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« on: October 11, 2014, 07:41:46 AM »

I think teams should make an effort to disclose an outline of their argument on the case list. I think they should do so because it facilitates meaningful engagement with their arguments and also works to produce reciprocal expectations of reasonableness amongst competitors.

Now I know there are some common arguments against the caselist. I will attempt to address a few of them here.

"The case list translates a spoken performance into a written one, draining it of its vitality"

 I certainly agree that spoken and written performances are different things, but there are a number of similarities in content and form that suggest its still pretty important. Like, sure, a Peggy Phelan is going to point out that ontologically they are different but this doesn't mean that a posting is of zero strategic utility. And, to the extent that disclosure practices derive from competitive interest, if they truly are ontologically distinct then it wouldn't benefit your opponents too much.

"What happens in the debates needs to stay in the debates"

Seems like an argument for leaving out elements of the performance that should stay off the case list, but not for not posting. And posting your own stuff will probably keep folks from posting other stuff (because people often don't post redundant information) reducing the risk that something leaves the room that one does not like.

"Our case list practices perform a politics of opacity necessary for the subaltern"

This presumes that debate is a space/site that is precisely coincidental with the world at large. I believe there are reasons for understanding that debate is a political site similar in many respects to others but that it is also a repetition with a difference, because it is a space where we presume--unlike within the mass public outside of the debate realm--that our arguments will be engaged, assessed, measured, and responded to. For good reasons, we no longer have this expectation in civil society proper, but we have generally taken it to be an animating ethos of collegiate policy debate (even if our faith in the quality of the engagement waxes and wanes, with perhaps this moment being one of considerable waning). Essentially, the idea of non-disclosure asserts that 1) the material labor of gathering intelligence is equivalent to the intellectual labor of strategizing and 2) that arguments come into debates as presumptively weak, so much so that they cannot stand up to argumentative scrutiny. I find both of these propositions troubling.

"Debate should be hard, figuring out what teams say is hard, deal! It was hard when I did it! We didn't have a case list."

Debate is part of an academic environment increasingly configured by competition not only in the contest round itself but also interpersonal competition within the community itself. The university itself is also in competition with external actors, and departments--whether honors colleges or comm studies--are themselves competing with other elements of the university for resources and attention. The repetition of this competitive ethos normalizes debate's status as a Hobbesian enterprise, encouraging insular moves to protect information and generating distance between competitors as the key defining factor structuring engagement. Coaches and students both--in the vast majority of cases--find themselves with less time, more responsibilities, and extra, non-argument related administrative duties. More disclosure means that coaching time can be spent in the vital work of intellectual engagement with other people's arguments. Plus, I will make what to me is a somewhat non-controversial claim: much of the critical literature is complicated enough that knowing a person read from a certain book or article is not the same as knowing what their argument is.

The people that benefit the most from disclosure practices are not the Northwesterns of the world. Generally, the resource disparities between larger and smaller teams are often overblown, I think the Northwesterns of the world would be the first to tell you that no matter what, they'll have the intelligence they need. As it was 15 years ago before the case list. As it was 10 years ago before the case list. Also I don't think knowing what aff you are going to debate should be considered a "benefit" so much as the condition of possibility of high quality debates. Everyone's resources are really quite finite.

I firmly believe that the critical turn within debate provides enormous educational benefits, and that these educational benefits are driven in part by the competition element that drives the production, refining, and perfect of arguments. Knowing what arguments people are making just leads to better debates, which leads to better education, which leads to more thoughtful engagement. The creeping world where the Historical Materialism K is the new politics and Anthro is the new framework is, to me, not preferable to a world where 1NC's are doing more to engage with the terms of the aff. Will some people free ride and still read a paleolithic version of framework? Sure. Not to worried about that. People who write thoughtful and well-considered framework arguments are probably clashing with the aff and so my beef is not with that, either.

Right now it seems like some people on both sides want an increasingly separate tournament schedule, driven by differing political agendas and understandings of the goal of the debate, with a good deal of resentment and nostalgia on one side for what the critical turn has done for debate. More disclosure practices, I think, can be part of a move to temper a little bit of this, to fashion a world where "new debate" blends a thoughtful literature base with expectations for engagement, to demonstrate that what occurs is/can be pretty awesome. But without knowing what people are saying, its hard to write a good strategy. That's a fact I run into in my daily practice of preparing my squad. So, you can tell me to work harder, and smarter. I am trying, and will keep trying to do so. But its easier, more fun, more intellectually invigorating, and more rewarding to prepare and read arguments that clash directly with the aff. I just think higher quality debates benefit everyone.

This is not a call for "mandatory disclosure:" I lack fiat, and I appreciate that people are situated differentially and unequally in a way that implicates the decision to disclose, but even considering those inequalities, I think the stakes of debate are such that the robust benefits of meaningful contestation outweigh the competitive benefits. I hope people will carefully consider what I am saying here, and will think about the implications of non-disclosure have for our broader practices as a community, and will consider that thoughtful engagement with a worthy body of literature might require some meaningful advance notice. Otherwise, what's so persuasive about a lot of the framework impact turns going around?

Best,
PJ
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