[eDebate] Topic Formulations - Whats your method?

Ryan Galloway rwgallow
Mon Apr 24 10:38:53 CDT 2006

I'll gladly respond to Jackie's post.  Keep in mind, that these are
just general ideas, amenable to alteration through discussion, debate,
and the specifics of whatever topic wins.  

I disagree with some of Jackie's examples, because they would lead me
down a path that I don't support in topic construction.  Here are the

#1:  I am more worried about the AFF than the NEG.  I am clearly
worried about both, but in the current debate environment, it seems to
me the NEG is doing just fine with lots of T violations, procedurals,
K's, Counterplan options, good disads, etc.  A balance is
important, but I think ensuring that the AFF at least has "good
cases" to hang their hat on is important.  In some ways this
answers the part of Jackie's question that the AFF would be restricted
to specific "bad" actions.  The AFF should get "good" actions
(obviously subjective) so they can have a fighting chance against the
storm of NEG arguments that the prevailing judging paradigm of "it's
harder to be NEG" creates.  

#2:  The limits question is more important than the list question.  I
would disagree with Jackie about the broad formulation of topics he
ascribes to.  Jackie simply wants broader topics than I think are
pedagogically valuable.  I could explain further about that question,
but see any one of my number of e-mail posts, NCA presentations, public
rants, etc. about the value of switch-side debate around focused topics.
 My basic pedagogical belief is that students learn more when they can,
within reasonable limits, anticipate the range of what they will debate
so they can research the issues thoroughly, give the issues considerable
thought, and practice arguments.  Limits are important.

Meanwhile, LISTS can be good, but are not inherently good.  I posted on
this issue a few years back, and the following is part of a backchannel
reply I gave to Dallas on this issue:

"Sorry I missed your original post, it got buried beneath a wall of
other posts (I read the archives).

For myself (and speaking only for myself), the LIST QUESTION is
subordinate to the LIMITS QUESTION.

I think certain topics lend themselves more to lists that create
limits:  I think Treaties, sanctions, and Courts do that, because we
can create a stable action followed by a list.

Europe was not amenable to a list, and the topic suffered from an
effort to force a model onto the topic that didn't fit.  The efforts
by some to create an energy policy list suffered from the same flaw.
List vs. non-list is a bad standard in the abstract.  It works
sometimes, not others.  The key for me is the stable mechanism.

A list doesn't even lock in lack of AFF. flex on the Supreme Court
topic because of the nature of the phrase overrule.  Teams will
specify the grounds for the overrule (which I think is good), giving
them a fair amount of flex even with a list.  

The stable mechanism is clutch.  I feel comfortable with overrule on a
Supreme Court topic, but I've seen that before and know that it is at
least OK generic neg. ground.

At the same time, as the privacy topic (esp. as you modified it),
illustrates, it is possible to have good debates on legal topics
without the list.

I recommended to Mancuso almost a year ago [since replying to Dallas, I
realized that I actually had this discussion with Eber almost a year
ago, and with Mancuso at the NDT] that we could just say:
overrule a Supreme Court decision in one of the following areas:
abortion, affirmative action, euthanasia.  Maybe that is a list (it
isn't a list of cases), but I think those debates would be great.
Privacy redux would be good too." (End quote from Dallas

#3:  I'm committed to USFG as actor or potentially specifying the
actor (Supreme Court/Congress/President) in the topic.  I recognize the
concerns people have about agency denial, locking in a model of the USFG
as the center of our topics, and how this frames discussions in ways
some don't like.  In the interests of ground for both sides, education
surrounding the issues being discussed, and accessible literature on the
topic, I feel these considerations are more important ESPECIALLY on the
areas being discussed.  If we were to "debate about debate" as
Warner makes reference to, or if we were to debate explicitly about
social activism, I think individuals might be a better actor.  However,
given that we will either be talking about government policy on IPR, how
the government can curtail the power of the executive, or whether or not
certain Supreme Court decisions should be overruled, I think the best
balance remains focused on USFG action.  At the same time, I know
debaters will force the issue of individual responsibility/individual
lens toward these issues, and I'm OK with those debates.  

#4:  I don't know about "definitional dogma," but I believe in
terms of art in the literature that provide solid foundations for the
topic.  I think that's good for both the AFF and the NEG.  The
Affirmative can defend themselves on topicality with good, specific
literature on the question, the Negative can go for Topicality with
specific, contextual literature defining the action in relation to the
topic itself.  I am increasingly disturbed by Topicality debates on both
sides that don't center around contextual evidence, which is more
important than the dictionary.com definition of terms in the resolution.
 I think the topic committee made a small mistake by allowing
"enact" into the Europe topic without more careful
consideration.  I think the topic committee made a small mistake with
the phrase "diplomatic and economic pressure."  I think the topic
committee made a huge, whopper of a mistake the last time we had a
Courts topic by including the phrase "recognizing" the right to
privacy, instead of "upholding" it, because it caused the topic to
be the opposite of what was anticipated (nearly everyone ran a case that
increased rights).  BTW, I fully anticipate that the topic committee
will inevitably make "mistakes" in the minds of some people because
we are trying to craft a topic for everyone, and we are a very diverse
community.  I can't imagine a topic that would make both Josh Hoe and
Jackie Massey happy.   

Those are sort of my default ideas, perhaps a "lens" if you will,
or maybe just some insights into the topic process.  I would love to
discuss these openly or with anyone via backchannel to further
articulate/refine/modify parts of this.  I'm not sure I have any
"convictions" that can be "lost" through public discussion,
but only refined and perhaps enhanced through discussion with others.

Thank you all for allowing me to represent you on the topic committee. 
I may not always agree with the recommendations you provide me with, but
I promise I will listen carefully and try my best.


Ryan Galloway
Samford University

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