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What is a critique?
I think that anytime a new and partially understood argument comes around
the pike, there will be a number of teams which rush to fashion one of their
arguments into this new form so that they might share in the mystique.
"Critiques" (I still reject the psuedo-radical posturing of "kritik") are
no exception. No one has a lock on the power to define these arguments, but I
suggest that defining should be an instrumental act: what definition of the
argument operates so as to separate the argument from other recognized
argument-forms, and leaves us with a clear deliniation. I think that defining
the critique is a necessary first step for determining whether critiques are
argued well or poorly. And I think that individuals who are intersted in
defining the critique should check out the CEDA-L critique thread from last
spring (archived on Debate Central in the "intermediate" (?) section of the
theory menu) and watch such a definition emerge from the discussions between
me, Srader, Rosen, Dumas, and others.
Murphy and I (in the upcoming yearbook) define a critique as any argument
which does not provide an answer to the resolutional question but which does
provide a reason for superseding the resolutional question in importance.
(Note: everytime I say "resolution" I mean the functional focus of the debate,
which in a parametric world would be aff's operationalization: case). The
essence of the critique is a justification for some non-resolutional argument
to be considered in lieu of the resolutional question. Such arguments
question the *conditions* under which a debate is taking place, and do not
advance arguments which address the resolution's truth or falsity. Critiques
as defined can focus on:
- the legitimacy of the resolutional question,
(i.e., its worth as a focus-area, not its truth or falsity)
- the ability to answer the resolutional question,
- the normative effects of arguments or practices within the framework of
All of these arguments give us a basis for questioning whether the
resolution (as operationalized) should be the basis on which teams win or
lose. An evidence challenge, for example, gives us a reason to vote on
something other than resolutional truth of falsity. A pattern of racial or
sexual harrassment might give us another reason. A resolution which can not
or should not serve as a focus for discussion might give us another reason. I
think this definition seperates critiques from arguments like disads and value
objections (which address the resolution and say "no") and presents a clear
meaning for the argument.
Given this definition, arguments going under the lable "critique" on this
topic (imprisoning is racist or patriarchal) seem to me to be reasons to say
no to the resolution (i.e., don't vote for more severe penalties) in the same
way that a disadvantage would be a reason to say no to the resolution. In
other words, given these arguments we would address the resolution, and say
"no" to it. We would not, given these arguments, supplant a FOCUS on the
resolution, we would just answer it with a no. I don't think there is any
value in calling these arguments "critiques" (or "kritiks"). In my mind,
nothing seperates these imposter's from disads (except the negative's desire
to avoid the issue of uniqueness).
I'm sure the critique argument will cause as much anguish as my previous
stuff (e.g., see the Ken-roast which dominates the most recent "Forensic").
Some day, I plan to write something safe and non-controversial. Perhaps,
"time-keeping should be accurate?" Nah, Jim Hanson would argue that novices
must "earn" the coveted 60-second minute.
Towson State University
Archive created by Jonathan Stanton (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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