In policy debate, a kritik (derived from German "kritik", meaning critique but traditionally pronounced as "critic", and often abbreviated K) is generally a type of argument that challenges a certain mindset, assumption, or discursive element that exists within the advocacy of the opposing team, often from the perspective of critical theory; it is often spelled in the normal English critique or is sometimes called a criticism, and takes the adjective form kritikal (meaning and pronounced as "critical"). A kritik can either be deployed by the negative team to challenge the affirmative advocacy or by the affirmative team to indict the status quo or the negative advocacy. Although many teams in pre-merger Cross Examination Debate Association debates advocated philosophical objections to plans and resolutions for several years prior to the advent of the "Kritik," the argument was more self-consciously developed by NDT teams at The University of Texas, coached by Bill Shanahan, in the late 1980s out of an existing "single-citizen" argumentation paradigm which called for the judge to vote a single citizen's conscience rather than adopting the role of the federal government. The shanahan kritik is more a decision calculus than the kritiks which emerged on the college circuit in the early 1990s on the nature of language's intrinsic ambiguity. Early innovators of the kritik included CEDA teams from Cal State-Chico, Southwestern College (Kansas) and the University of Missouri-Kansas City. These pre-merger debaters combined elements of traditional "value objection" and criteria-based non-policy arguments with postmodern, metaphysical, and philosophical perspectives to create a powerful, though often amorphous, negative strategy. Though kritiks are now found generally in policy debate, their usage is also increasingly found in Lincoln-Douglas debate and NPDA and NPTE parliamentary debate.


The structure of the kritik is generally similar to that of the disadvantage in that it includes a "link" and an "impact" or "implication". Unlike the disadvantage, however, it excludes "uniqueness" and includes an "alternative". This structure has inspired some in the debate community to question whether a kritik is "just a non-unique disadvantage." Disadvantages, however, usually assume a consequentialist/utilitarian paradigm of impact analysis, while kritiks employ different decisionmaking frameworks. There is, however, no hard and fast rule regarding the structure of a kritik. In fact, a rejection of traditional argument structure may actually be at the very heart of kritiks. The "reductionism" kritik utilized by Southwestern College in the early 90s, for instance, maintained that the cartesian, linear thinking patterns utilized in academic debate were sufficiently damaging to warrant rejection.


It is usually assumed that a kritikal link, unlike a disadvantage link, need not be unique; that is, the team putting forward the kritik (almost always the negative) need not prove that the impacts claimed by the argument could not be triggered by the status quo—that the affirmative does not "uniquely" lead to the impact. Instead, the typical kritikal link is one of re-entrenching the philosophy or mindset to be criticized by the argument, be it biopower/biopolitics, racism, militarism, realism in international relations, patriarchy, statism, imperialism/Orientalism, capitalism, gendered language, or other objectionable systems of thought and action.

Impact or Implication

The kritikal impact or implication varies depending on the nature of the kritik. Kritiks of such things as biopower, militarism, and capitalism often argue that the indicted concept justifies nuclear war, genocide, and totalitarianism. Other kritiks, such as those of language, racism, and those advocating Objectivism typically claim deontological impacts; that is, the positive effects of the affirmative are unimportant compared to the ethical damage it does. However, these are generalities and, for instance, a kritik of biopower may simply argue that, from a deontological perspective, a judge has a moral imperative to reject biopower.


The alternative is the core of what separates the kritik from being just a highly philosophical linear disadvantage. The alternative is generally supposed to provide an advocacy other than that which the affirmative has put forward; however, the alternative tends to be "reject the criticized philosophy" or "reject the affirmative." More substantive alternatives exist however; a kritik which takes the position of Ayn Rand's Objectivism might include "adopt the Objectivist program" as the alternative.


If proposed policy action was for the United States to send humanitarian assistance to Africa, a possible critical argument would be a kritik of Statism. The link would be that the affirmative uses the centralized state in their plan, and the implication is that the centralized state is bad for "x" reasons and should therefore be rejected. The negative might call for the rejection of state action without concretely proposing another social system or they may explain another type of social organization that should be used instead of the contemporary state, often anarchy.

Examples of kritiks may include indicts of racism, militarism, patriarchy, biopower, empire, normativity, terror talk, capitalism, liberalism, and genocide trivialization. Some kritiks may be presented in their entirety by a single author while other kritik presentations may use various different authors that cross-reference each other's arguments. Perennially popular kritik authors include Michel Foucault, Slavoj Zizek, Jacques Lacan, Giorgio Agamben, Jacques Derrida, Martin Heidegger, Jean Baudrillard, Friederich Nietzsche, Judith Butler, William Spanos and various proponents of Marxism. More seasonal authors, whose popularity depends on the topic, include Edward Said and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (typically in topics dealing with the Third World) as well as Thomas Szasz (on topics where medicine and mental health are at issue) and Yannis Stavrakakis (typically on environmental topics).

Common Kritiks

Biopower- A large category of kritiks that usually argue the affirmative plan increases, creates, or relies on oppressive control. The criticism stems largely out the body of literature resulting from the work of Michel Foucault who coined the phrase. Common link stories have involved surveillance, regulation, environmental management, and the mental health field particularly psychiatry. It is often abbreviated "BP" or "BioP".

Capitalism- Is a category of kritiks that usually argue the affirmative plan increases or is aligned with capitalism, its logical basis, or its effects. Alternatives have drawn from Marxist literature and contemporary anti-capitalist sources. One way that alternatives are sometimes used is to deploy an impact turn on an economic collapse impact (taking what was traditionally a negative impact in debate and arguing that it is a positive). It is often abbreviated "Cap" , "CapK", or "C

"Don’t say _____"- Sometimes called a "dirty word" Kritik, this criticism usually calls out the other team for using language that is offensive or for some other reason harmful. Common examples are "Don’t say fuck", "Don't say nuke" (referring to an abbreviation for nuclear weapons), and using gendered or racist language. These critiques usually forgo an alternative in favor of rejecting the offending team as punishment.

Feminist International Relations- It usually argues that the realm of international relations or legalism in general is male dominated and androcentric. Some common alternatives have been putting women in power and adopting a focus on local, non-governmental solutions. The typical feminist international relations kritik draws heavily on critical international relations theory, including the Copenhagen School and several others, and usually indicts more mainstream schools, such as realism, liberalism/idealism, and functionalism, though realism is the most frequent target of attack. It is often abbreviated as "Fem IR".

Gender- Gender criticism is often a third-wave approach to the Feminist International Relations argument and it usually goes further in incorporating concepts from Queer Theory. It’s distinguished by arguing that certain policy options (or government in general) are biased in western masculine thinking leading to cyclical violence, rather than focusing on the sexes of the political figures involved. Common link stories are political or economic pressure, military action, technocratic discourse, or legalism. Identity Kritiks- These criticisms often focus on how the affirmative's discourse excludes or falsely constructs the experience of members of different identity categories. Some common examples are excluding GLBT, Latino/a, African American, or various international group voices. Alternatives often focus on making policy, language, and the debate community itself more inclusive of minority students/experiences.

Meditation/Buddhism- These arguments usually critique ways the affirmative team is focused on purely external solutions or is exclusively western in focus. Negative debaters may ask the debate participants to look inward and perform meditation in to the round, and usually characterize the harms in the 1AC as being either solvable by internal reflection or inevitable features of life that we cause our selves injury trying to fix. Alternatives have included meditation or other eastern views on political action.

Securitization/Fear of Death- The securitization argument claims that the Affirmative fears death and uses this fear of death to justify any action by a transcendental entity, the "sovereign." The position may also include spikes claiming that death is good as an added case turn to the Affirmative. Another spin is to indite specific examples where the affirmative creates security threats, such as in the example of terrorism. Statism- A kritik of statism — often called a kritik of the state — usually argues that the affirmative is entrenched in the violence or systems of domination (similar to Biopower) that exist inherently in the state. Common alternatives have included "de-mystifying" the state in public perception or anarchy.

Zizek- A good example of kritiks often assembled from the works of only one author, these are criticisms drawn heavily from the work of Slavoj Zizek. The “typical” Zizek critique (if there is one) accuses the other team of living in a series of symbolic fantasy worlds where ineffective political action is fetishized for personal gratification in place of, and sometimes to the detriment of, actual change. The alternative is often, though not always, to do nothing in order to cause the collapse of the symbolic system.

Nietzsche- Yet another good example of a fully expansive criticism, one acute difference however is that many Nietzsche Kritiks are often supplemented with more conclusive interpretations of Nietzsche's text by modern scholars. Though much literature depends on the resolution itself, Nietzsche often critiques the other teams problem-solving mindset of attempting to "deter conflicts" and their employment of Suffering, Morality, Security, Pity etc. as a reason to endorse the affirmative plan. Common alternatives include Nihilism, Amor Fati, Active Forgetfulness, and Rolling the Dice.

Criticism of kritiks

The validity of kritiks in policy debate is not universally accepted. Some arguments which indict their validity include:
*De-emphasis on topic related research. In a 1996 Rostrum article G. William Bennett states: "Kritiks discourage research on the topic, decrease the variety of cases and attacks, and substitute in their place an increased emphasis on deconstructing ideas and language."
*Reduced pedagogical value of debate. Bennett continues: "The constructive and more encompassing nature of policy clash increases the discussion of multiple ideas and is more educationally worthwhile."
*Unfair burden on judges to decide appropriateness of affirmative policy plan. Some argue that kritiks (when offered without an alternative) put judges in situations where articulating a fair winner is impossible because the judge is asked to "eat" the affirmative case's harms in order to endorse the Kritik's ethical position.
*Evidence in Kritiks is generally taken from critical philosophy, and as a result of having to fit into orally read, limited time speeches, the evidence is piecemeal and taken largely out of context and represents incomplete and often wildly inaccurate caricatures of the views of the actual authors. The reason that the authors involved write whole books is because they need whole books to be complete and clear.

Supporters of kritik argumentation suggest that not all of these indictments are unique to kritiks, meaning that they apply to the traditional debate arguments as well, and that a kritik is just another argument which must be researched and prepared for. They also point out the specificity of many kritiks in relation to policy comparison and implementation (such as Foucault's contributions to our understanding of mental health care or Agamben's relevant contributions to civil liberties). Many of those that believe in the validity of kritik argumentation also argue that because many kritiks indict particularly bad assumptions that the other team has made, there is often no need for an explicitly stated alternative to the other team's offending advocacy. For instance, if negative has proven that aff's 1AC is racist, then why does the neg need any alternative beyond 'don't advocate racism,' or 'reject racist assumptions'? (the alternative, racial tolerance, being implied by the nature of the question. Those who are skeptical of the ultimate value of kritikal debate focus on positions that are not as cut and dried as racism or sexism. Many in the debate community can appreciate when kritical debate is done well, but also believe that that is an extremely rare occurrence.

The JAMs, an esoteric offshoot of Discordianism, recognizes "kritik"' as the reductio ad absurdum of formal debate, and indeed, all logical argumentation. By engaging in the repeated, obsessive deconstruction of any reasoned argument about the matter at hand, practitioners reach a state of satori wherein they simultaneously understand both the Truth and Not-Truth of the Affirmative, as well as the Truth and Not-Truth of the Negative.


In general, kritiks have been universally accepted in National Circuit (Tournament of Champions) debate and most inter-collegiate policy debate, and less accepted in particular regions of National Forensic League debate, especially by new, or "lay" judges. However, some believe this may simply be due to poor explanation. Indeed, inherently philosophical issues are relatively complex and often the small amount of time a negative team gets to speak during the duration of a round is not enough time to fully explain the complexities of the argument.

Kritiks are also increasingly popular in the National Parliamentary Debate Association. They have even begun to be used in the lay-judge dominated International Public Debate Association, whose paradigms generally demand a jargonless, easy-to-understand articulation of the basic kritik structure. The use of graduate students and non-debate professors to judge parliamentary debates, however, is arguably conducive to the introduction of kritikal argumentation, which frequently resembles philosophical and critical literature found in academia.

The Kritikal Affirmative

The realm of the kritik has extended beyond the negative argument into the region of the affirmative case. The kritikal affirmative seeks advantages which fix (in the jargon of debate, "solve for") impacts and concepts which are attached to the negative argument of the kritik. For instance, a plan to ban Don't Ask, Don't Tell would claim that it "solves for" heteronormativity as per queer theory.

The Kritik affirmative actually had its beginnings on the NDT college circuit at least as early as 1998, and probably earlier. Emory University, for example, during the South East Asia topic ran a plan to recover landmines under the auspices of an existentialism overview. Harvard likewise ran a hate crimes affirmative three years prior to that (1995) that claimed "rhetorical" advantages. These were both well before the oceans topic referred to above. Given the widespread use of philosophical argumentation throughout the 1990s, however, it is difficult to determine with any accuracy when the FIRST kritik affirmative was born, and, therefore, we should caution against attempting to pin such a title to any one debate.

In some instances, the kritikal affirmative does not even have a plan at all and is simply a collection of criticisms centered around a general support for the resolution.

Answering the Kritik

Kritik arguments are typically answered in a particular sequence, but this sequence can vary depending on the desire of the debater to conform to the paradigm of his/her critic.

Framework Arguments:Depending on the specific type of kritik, debaters will often refute its framework. Examples of common framework arguments include:

No articulated framework--the critiquing team has failed to meet an obligation for describing an alternative method for evaluating the round;
Framework turn--attempts to flip the theoretical basis of the argument and win that it is a functional reason to reject the kritik;
Alternative frameworks are illegitimate--the Affirmative team has the right to frame the round to protect ground and research;
and Framework permutations, which test whether or not the critical basis of the argument is functionally competitive with the case/Affirmative advocacy. According to more traditional negation theory, if the affirmative team wins the framework permutation they will usually moot the substantive debate on the criticism, because if it is possible to conform to the Negative’s framework while passing the Affirmative planthere is no logical reason to reject the Affirmative.

Link Arguments:Similar to a disadvantage, a critical link functions as a way of connecting a plan or advocacy, or particular language choice (as the case may be) with a set of impacts that are uniquely caused by a lack of acceptance of the Alternative. Reciprocally, Affirmatives can make a variety of arguments on a link.

Impact Arguments:Just like the link arguments, impact arguments can be made to diminish the magnitude, certainty, and in some cases, the severity of the impacts of a kritik. Impact argumentation is usually the solution to the problem of too much defense and too little offense. Impact turns, which argue that the impact is actually a positive effect, are a typical offense oriented response to impact analysis.

Alternative Arguments:In cases where a negative team has an alternative to their kritik The alternative is typically answered by claims that the alternative cannot solve for the case's harms, meaning like a Counterplan it has a tangible solvency deficit. Other options include arguing that the alternative (or the critiquing teams discourse) also links to the kritik and "counter kritiks." Counter kritiks are independent criticisms of the alternative and function has offense answers that are not turns. They also follow kritik structure, though often in a much more compact format and use the affirmative plan as an alternative.

In cases where the critiquing team has not offered an alternative, it is often argued that the kritik represents the status quo and the affirmative will argue that the negative has to win arguments proving that inaction is the best option win order to negate the case harms.

Permutations:Are abbreviated "perm" in debate parlance. Perms either test whether or not the alternative of the kritik is competitive (trades off) with the advocacy of the Affirmative or present a 3rd option merger of the two positions that the affirmative might choose to advocate. The latter is often subject to claims of abuse by the negative team. Affirmative speakers make strategic decisions about deploying permutations based on the needs of winning the round overall and claims made by the negative team about the legitimacy of the perm.


*Caldwell, Janice. (2001). [ Answering Critiques] . "Rostrum". Retrieved December 30, 2005.
*Cheshier, David. (2002). [ Defending Pragmatism as an Alternative to some Critiques] . "Rostrum". Retrieved December 30, 2005.
*Glass, David. (2002). [ Post Modern Critiques in the Policy Debate Statagem] . "Rostrum". Retrieved December 31, 2005.
*Heidt, Jenny. (2003). [ Performance Debates: How to Defend Yourself] . "Rostrum". Retrieved December 30, 2005.
*Schwartzman, Ray. (2001). [ Postmodernism and the Practice of Debate] . "Rostrum". Retrieved December 30, 2005.

External links

* [ shanahan's 1993 "kritik of thinking" Debate Research Guide, 1993]
* [ Benett's "An introduction to the Kritik", the Rostrum, April 1996]

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