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Making the Most of Debate Camp Files, Part 1

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Part 1: What Makes a Good Camp File?


Argument development is usually structured at the beginning of the debate season by the many national and local debate institutes. From 7-week intensives to 1-week skill workshops, every camp makes a meaningful contribution to the debate community’s understanding and overall shaping of the new topic. One of the big challenges involved, though, for students regardless of their program type, their skill level, location, and/or ambition for success is in making sense of what camp files are ~the best~ to integrate into competitive use. As such, I want to give a bit of insight into ways that will make your determinations more efficient, effective, and energetic.

As a matter of framing, it is essential to remember that camp files have a real and material history. Core topic areas might be produced in the rush of the few weeks before camp starts, while more discrete arguments may not be written until the summer is nearly over. Additionally, coaches from all kinds of backgrounds and skill levels write different files which means that no institution can be relied on as always having the ‘best’ files—this strongly decentralized aspect of camp files should urge you to make sure that you are going through the full offering of files made available by camps. Even more, some files may be exclusively produced by high school students which should factor into the way that you choose and read them (as student research experience does factor into how successful a file can be at completing its rhetorical task of argument). Indeed, then, a method for even beginning camp file research is necessary.

The first questions to ask yourself when you look at the long list of files should be a relatively simple one: What am I looking for and why? Whether you are trying to pick an affirmative that can be used for a majority of the early season or whether you want to find a few new permutation answers for your favorite kritik, the answers to these questions will give you the direction that you need to know where to click and what to read.

Secondarily, it is important that you know who wrote the file you are reading and why it is likely that they were selected to write it, lead its development, etc. Indeed, not all debate coaches are effective at writing all kinds of arguments, but all debate coaches are effective at writing at least one kind of argument. An easy way to get a feel for this is to know your history and the larger trends, personalities, and narratives in the community—when doing so, these are a few helpful questions to ask and research strategies to try out:

  • Did the person who wrote/directed this argument file have their students read a similar style of argument in the last year or two?
    • If not, is there anything that you can determine from that institution’s wiki, the individual’s paradigm, and/or the individual’s college/high school debate wiki that would give you further insight into why this individual produced the file?
      • Remember, sometimes there is no reason aside from a debate camp’s need to have the file for the larger community evaluation. To figure out if this has been the case, reach out to someone you might know who went to that camp to see if the file was widely used etc.
  • Is the person who wrote the file a scholar of the work in that field (i.e. a lawyer, philosopher, engineer, biochemist, environmental scientist, etc.)?
    • This is a good opportunity to see if the file producer has written any articles on the topic themselves which can give you access to niche areas of the debate.
  • You can dig further into this question by looking at a camp’s total file production, as well, to see how coherently the file corresponds to the general depiction of the topic produced by that camp (i.e. where did the camp faculty focus student topic education).

After asking doing the important introspective and initial research into an argument, it is time to select an argument and a set of files ( In this example, I will be using files from the 2018-2019 Immigration Restrictions topic. If, for example, I want to find the best Afropessimism answers to increase the effectiveness of my 2AC blocks or to find some unique and contemporary case turns, I need to look for camps that have done substantial work on the argument. Typically, a camp that does not produce a sizeable file of one side of an argument will not have the other side fully fleshed out either.

Going back to the example, then, when I click ‘sort by camp,’ I can see that Wake, UTNIF, and Michigan have produced close to the largest amount of content on the topic area of Afropessimism. So, then, my next step is to download any and all of those files—even the ones that appear to just be one side of the argument because sometimes kritiks and their answers get bundled together in a camp file. In this example, I am going to download all of the following files:

Antiblackness Answers Compiled - Wake 2018, Bintou Black Islamaphobia Aff - Wake 2018, Black Islamophobia Aff and Neg - Wake 2018 RKS, Brown Feminist Killjoy - Wake 2018, Brown Feminist Killjoy Additions - Wake 2018, Fiat, Hope and Pragmatism Core - Wake 2018, Moten Masterfile - Wake 2018, Ontological Terror Aff and Neg - Wake 2018 RKS,  Ontological Terror Masterfile - Wake 2018, Performance and Method Answers - Wake 2018, Performance Master File - Wake 2018 RKS, Pessimism - Starter Packet - Wake 2018.

                I know that may seem like a lot of files to download in order to find a few update cards or to build out a block series (2AC +1AR/2NC +1NR), but there are good reasons for getting each one. Firstly, I want to make sure I am getting all of the files labeled ‘compiled’ or ‘master’ in order to get as close to a complete set of cards as possible. Then, I want to download any files labeled ‘starter pack’ or ‘aff and neg’ because sometimes the person who does the file compilation is not the same person who wrote the original file. This can sometimes cause cards to not be integrated in to larger files. Lastly, I want to make sure I am downloading files that have clear thematic consistency with the argument I am looking for—in this case, I also downloaded the Bintou Black Islamaphobia Aff, Brown Feminist Killjoy, Fiat, Hope, and Pragmatism Core, Moten Masterfile, and Performance and Method Answers because of each of those files may or may not touch on a certain aspect of the general idea of Afropessimism. Additionally, they may have cards that are critical of general Afropessimist thought and can give you direction towards new research to find and cut for your own files.

                Presumably, I would open the “Pessimism – Starter Packet – Wake 2018” file first based on the file names and the argument I am researching (Afropessimism). When doing so, one notices that there is no table of contents and the only way to even determine if the file has affirmative answers is by scrolling through the document pane all the way to the bottom.  When I get to the affirmative answers, I ask myself the following questions:

  1. Do I already have any of these cards?
  2. When was this evidence produced?
    1. Cards from 2010-2016 (and earlier) are going to be a lot more widely known, available, and prepped-out than evidence from the last few years.
  3. Why was the evidence included in the file?
    1. In the case of the first piece of Ehlers 2012 evidence, for example, it seems like the card is designed to assist teams that read settler colonialism resistance affirmatives in answering Afropessimism—rather than to directly assist generic affirmative strategies.
    2. Looking at the two Ba 2011 cards, though, provides evidence that is more broadly usable for affirmative and negative teams. These cards come from a critical article that does a meaningful and thorough engagement with Wilderson’s text Red, White, and Black. While the cards themselves are brief, the warrants and nuance are present in the evidence.
  4. Is any evidence in this file going to be a round-winner for me?
    1. This is a difficult question to answer because of the complex ways that a round can be won.
      1. For example, if you do not have any answers to Afropessimism, then any and all cards you gather from camp files will be ‘round-winners.’
      2. However, if you are seeking out unique and nuanced answers that engage the argument in ways that teams may not be as comfortable with answering, then it is helpful to cross-reference evidence found in the camp file with the high school and college open source debate wiki.
        1. High School Wiki:
        2. College Wiki:
  • Lastly, you should be thinking about how the evidence blends into your overall affirmative strategy. Remember, the Ehlers evidence is much more helpful for affirmatives that call for an end to settler colonial ideology than affirmatives that argue for a strong increase in American statist hegemony.

In one example, let’s operate under an assumption that the affirmative we want to read involves a policy action that claims to solve for climate change/global warming and US-China war via a science diplomacy internal link. In looking through the “Pessimism – Starter Packet – Wake 2018” file, we are actually able to find a few cards that back up the internal link chain warrants (i.e. our epistemology and research practice). While the Hudson evidence may appear as a generic response to social death claims, when a more attentive reading is done, lines like the following emerge:

“The colonised is, in other words, the subject of anxiety for whom the symbolic and the imaginary never work, who is left stranded by his very interpellation.4 “Fixed” into “non-fixity,” he is eternally suspended between “element” and “moment”5 – he is where the colonial symbolic falters in the production of meaning and is thus the point of entry of the real into the texture itself of colonialism. Be this as it may, whiteness and blackness are (sustained by) determinate and contingent practices of signification; the “structuring relation” of colonialism thus itself comprises a knot of significations which, no matter how tight, can always be undone. Anti-colonial – i.e., anti-“white” – modes of struggle are not (just) “psychic”6 but involve the “reactivation” (or “de-sedimentation”)7 of colonial objectivity itself. No matter how sedimented (or global), colonial objectivity is not ontologically immune to antagonism. Differentiality, as Zizek insists (see Zizek 2012, chap- ter 11, 771 n48), immanently entails antagonism in that differentiality both makes possible the existence of any identity whatsoever and at the same time – because it is the presence of one object in another – undermines any identity ever being (fully) itself. Each element in a differential relation is the condition of possibility and the condition of impossibility of each other. It is this dimension of antagonism that the Master Signifier covers over transforming its outside (Other) into an element of itself, reducing it to a condition of its possibility.8”

Note how the underlining ignores claims about how the fundamental element of geopolitics (i.e. relation via Master Signification—the ontological element of this example’s science diplomacy internal link) is politically structured. Indeed, the card goes so thoroughly to this point that it argues even towards the possibility of “ ‘de-sedimentation’ ” as a method for subjectivity and political action (“modes of struggle”). In a way contextual to the affirmative, this piece of Hudson evidence (as cut and presented in the file) is useful because it makes an argument undermining Afropessimism’s critique of political action by interrupting the truth-structuring of social death and natal alienation theory while also presenting legitimacy for possibilities of/for anti-racist meaning-making. In short, link turns based on the ways in which science diplomacy/soft power and environmentalism have a renewed credibility to engage with Afropessimist alternatives (although it is essential to remember that not all alternatives are/function the same and not every link turn characterization of evidence in this way can produce the same outcome—truly, every ballot will be decided by the actions and conditions of the round and not purely via speculation and theory).

Importantly, it is not always possible to figure out every detail about every file. Oftentimes, one will have no relationships with or connections to the file producer and/or it may just be far too much work to research individual expertise and/or argument trends to just grab a few new cards for a block or two. In the cases where these issue areas might occur, it can be helpful to use camp files as a ‘reference guide’ of sorts for/against evaluating each individual file. What I mean by this more-so is the following (using a hypothetical file produced by anywhere between 3-5 camps as an example):

  • If one file does not have the same common solvency advocate evidence etc., you need to ask yourself, ‘why?’
    • Is this because the file represents a niche version of the affirmative with a different argument structure, advantages, and plan text?
    • Is this because the evidence in the file is remarkably older/newer than other versions?
      • How does this impact your reading of the file if true?
    • Are you tracking the general commonalities across the files?
      • If so, what is unique about each one?
        • How/why are you able to make a determination on this uniqueness?
      • Is the quality of evidence consistent across the files?
        • Do any of the files individually and exclusively use:
          • Journal articles?
          • News websites and think pieces?
          • Books?
        • How (if at all) does this impact the strategic utility of the file in relation to the answer sets that other camps have produced and in relation to the file’s strategic utility in your circuit?

These are just some of the entry level questions you should ask as you engage in a responsive reading of camp files. In the next part of this series of posts on working with camp files, I will share with you next steps you can take to update and integrate an entire file into your team’s argument set. We will discuss research methods, the ethics of citation practices, strategy, and efficiency among other central elements to the successful adaptation of camp files for personal use.

I also want to hear about the ways in which each of you have done this work and/or work similar to what I have described. Your comments will provide our community of readers with real-life examples that they can apply to their own practice and preparation. Was there any area from the article that you would like to know more about? Feel free to leave your questions, comments, and thoughts in the comment section so that this piece can function as an adaptive reading experience for present and future debate community participants! I am always happy to do more extended work regarding the above examples with folks in the comments, so feel invited and welcome to participate in this learning exercise with me!


Author Bio:

Tim Lewis is an Assistant Policy Debate Coach at Damien High School in La Verne, CA. In his academic work, Tim writes about Georges Bataille, anti-colonialism, and identity theory. Tim is the long-term Managing Editor of Critical Theory and Social Justice: Journal of Undergraduate Research housed at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. You can read some of Tim’s poetry in Collision, GAMBA, and Clockwise Cat among other publications.

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