[eDebate] Right, *Russia* is at the core of everything

Travis John Cram tcram
Fri Apr 25 21:16:03 CDT 2008

Disregard last message.  I'm apparently retarded.


I don't disagree with your claim that we should discuss issues that are currently underdiscussed.  I disagree with the evidence advanced to support that claim (the arguments in CEDA finals).  Changing the topic will not solve the frustrations you expressed, which I think are fairly symptomatic of all debate practices under any debate topic (unless we change the debate format from rounds to thesis presentations in front of a tenured panel...).  Discussing something like reparations would certainly have value by exposing people to areas of scholarship they currently don't encounter (econ majors don't read a lot of Foucault, generally...).  But arguments based on jive, spin and facile interpretations of scholarship will persist simply because time/strategic/resource pressures make it so.

I also dispute whether changing the topic will impact or influence the representation of various academic majors in the activity.  Topics don't 'price out' some majors; some disciplines price themselves out.  The workload required for degrees in many fields is just too high to participate in policy debate.  A genetic engineering topic wouldn't cause a sudden influx of science majors because getting a chemical engineering degree is fucking hard in and of itself.  The program you describe sounds really difficult, and I wonder whether you would have had to make choices and trade-offs in a world where the topic was reparations and not treaties.  Do we start a topic rotation based on academic discipline to ensure diversity (the equivalent of general studies requirements at state universities...)? 

As for the "more egregious" comment, that's just my bad sarcasm habit.  Disregard.


-----Original Message-----
From: Tom Meagher [mailto:meagher.tom at gmail.com]
Sent: Fri 4/25/2008 7:25 PM
To: Travis John Cram
Cc: edebate at ndtceda.com
Subject: Re: [eDebate] Right, *Russia* is at the core of everything
I've been around debate long enough to understand the issues Travis is
pointing out. I'm not making any claims that poor use of research is unique
to racism, coloniality, etc. I've judged plenty of cringe-inducing debates
where debaters conflated "realism" with "considering nuclear war impacts,"
and so forth. I don't at all agree with your "at least as egregious" claim,
but that's not a big issue.

But is there really an argument that the top level of debaters understands
a) IR and b) US-Russia relations to a lesser extent than it understands the
body of literature on racism and decolonial theory? Bad debate arguments
happen at every level. I am contending not that bad research is occurring. I
am contending that there is a maldistribution of research content in the
debate community, and asking if the opponents of the reparations topic are
contesting this claim or merely find it insignificant.

I don't doubt that it's generally easy to separate debate skills to a large
extent so that they do not interfere with scholarly pursuits. I'm not
indicting debate wholesale, and I owe so much to it that to do so would be
ridiculous. But debate and its techniques were decidedly NOT easy for me to
put aside in my academic experiences, and as a white student in the Ethnic
Studies department I do truly feel that my education would have been greatly
compromised had I continued in debate, and it was very often compromised by
elements of my debate training (and bolstered by others; there was good and
bad, but the bad reasons were much more specific  to my pursuits than the
good reasons). It is difficult to relate in this forum the thoughts and
painful experiences that led me to understand that; maybe I will some time.
But surely it should be relatively easy for members of the debate community
to see that, as it is presently constructed, it is much easier for an IR
student to use debate to advance their scholarship than an Ethnic Studies
student. If debaters are willing to defend that that is good, that is
another discussion. And if it can be demonstrated that IR and Ethnic Studies
are of equal value (I'm sure we both disagree somewhat for opposing
reasons), and if it can be demonstrated that debate bolsters students in one
field and impairs students in another, it's reasonable to suggest that
accounting for this disparity should be a goal in topic construction, right?

On Fri, Apr 25, 2008 at 5:55 PM, Travis John Cram <tcram at uwyo.edu> wrote:

> I'm not sure if a lot of the problems you cite about misappropriation of
> scholarly evidence or ideas is unique to the content of contemporary policy
> debate resolutions or the academic disciplines that it draws its membership
> from.  Debate's treatment of even basic IR theory is pretty abysmal.  As an
> IR major, I cringe when I hear the facile interpretations and gross
> conflations of liberalist, realist, constructivist theories or accounts of
> interstate relations.  I mean, an affirmative that reads a democracy
> promotion advantage and a realism good argument in the same debate without
> even a hint of irony... at least as egregious as the examples you highlight
> from the CEDA final round...  Or a hegemony advantage that mixes offensive
> realists with defensive realists, or balance of threat with balance of power
> accounts...  All kidding aside, the broader point is that various pressures
> in the debate environment make surface-level research and contradictory
> applications of scholarship inevitable.  Whether that's a bad thing
> (encourages sloppy, facile reading) or good (encourages creativity in
> reconciling competing perspectives, as well as responsive research to hold
> such teams accountable in later rounds) is up in the air for me.  As far as
> integrity of scholarship or ability for me to maintain rigor in my own
> studies, it hasn't been a problem.  I've found it easy to separate the
> skills debate has taught me (accessing databases, books and journals in an
> efficient and indepth manner, as well as critically evaluating texts) from
> the actual content of the cards I cut (the various spin or interpretation of
> evidence that accompanies cutting it).  I then apply the skills to my
> academic pursuits, not the questionable content.  I don't know.  I obviously
> speak from my own experience, but I haven't had a problem.  Whether people
> want a 'separation' between their debate lives and their academic lives...I
> can't speak to.
> Travis Cram

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