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Making the Most of Debate Camp Files, Part 2: Adaptation to Personal Use

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Part 2: Adapting a Camp File for Personal Use

Written by Tim Lewis


            In my previous post, I shared with you some of the reasons as to why and how you can engage with camp files as integral parts of your beginning-of-the-year preparation and strategy work. However, we do have teams in our community who might need to mostly and/or exclusively rely on camp files in order to be able to participate in this activity we call policy debate. Importantly, then, discussions of argument development from pre-prepared files should be available and encouraged. This post will focus on the first major gestures involved in adapting camp files for personal use and will conclude with a brief summary of efforts to consider when one transitions from using camp files to developing and creating their own individual arguments.

If you are currently at a camp, it will be vital for you to begin this work as soon as your camp comes to completion. If you are not going to camp and/or your time at camp has already finished, begin looking around for files produced at other camps and take a look at ones that intrigue and engage you (a good way to find these files before they get aggregated onto the NDCA page is to use search terms that include the phrase ‘google.sites’ and then the camp name (although you might have to use many variants to find the actual site depending on your search terminology)). Remember, debate camp is an option (albeit, typically one of privilege and power) and not a requirement to be successful (in whatever way you define ‘success’ for yourself) in policy debate.


Selecting an Affirmative

Choosing your affirmative for the beginning of the year is an essential and important task as the first tournament comes around. It is going to be essential that you know every aspect of this position, which is why adapting an affirmative from files written from camp is a very time-cost effective strategy—as much of the work setting the basic pieces of the position (inherency, solvency mechanism, advocacy actor, impact logic) will have already been done and established in a meaningful way. Look into affirmatives that play to your argumentative areas of strength (positions you are effective and experienced in defending) and ones that might give you some room to grow without putting you in a dark, wet cave without any matches to light your way.

Once you have located a position—regardless of rhetorical style (i.e. performance, plan-based, etc.)—download all of the camp files that have been produced around this idea. Likewise, you should also download all of the case negatives and generic counterplans, kritiks, and disadvantages (including the politics DA) so that you can verify if the camp file producers included specific 2AC block answers to those positions as well. Now, take all of those cards and add them into one big file. Your next step will be to locate common authors and articles—it is helpful to use an Excel spreadsheet to list out the key solvency, advantage internal link, inherency, and oppositional scholarship on your affirmative in order to provide yourself with a more organized representation of the field of literature.
            In locating common authors, you can begin to trace their academic history and career in order to see where their writing on your affirmative has been and where it is going. You should see where they are teaching, attempt to get a copy of the resume/cv (this will usually be located on their faculty page on the university website), and what they are teaching. If the university website is not helpful in providing this information, you can also look the author up on which is a free resource that scholars use to share their writings with each other and to improve the quality of content available via open source access.

Once you have found the academic conversation around your affirmative issue, it is time to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff—that is to say, you need to begin to see what cards produced at camp are helpful, which cards are cut out of context, and which cards can be replaced by more recent or more succinct warrant articulation. Sometimes, though, you may not have access to the articles that would help you make these determinations. One option that you can use if your school does not provide substantial (or any) support to your debate program is the local library—you can ask them for help to request academic articles that you would like to read. They may have specific requirements on the number of articles that you can have them order for you in a given time period, so be patient and understanding with your community resources (and don’t go into the library with a 50-article request list!).

There is an important turn in this journey of argument development and discovery: Recognizing ineffective, weak, and/or unhelpful arguments. Scholars and debaters—all of us—are fallible and engage in intellectual sloppiness here and there (even more, ideas emerge so far after an initial publication that the reading of a piece itself changes) and occasionally evidence will be put into a file to add some space, ensure that certain kinds of debates are able to be had, etc. Truly and fully, camp file production is itself a seriously exhaustive process. A central example as to why this degree of scholarly knowledge of the field of discussion involving your established position is the Hudson evidence from last week’s post.

While Hudson presents a compelling case for the malleability of the political by statist action in a way that is meaningful for targeted identity groups, Hudson later concedes in the article that “…What such objects show is precisely that colonials is still with us; it isn’t just “structural inertia” combined with “ANC corruption and mismanagement” that explains the ongoing racial distribution of life chances and assets” and that:

“if you put them in their colonial name as you just have to), then it isn’t a matter of individual dignity – of any individual or of the individual, but it is a matter now of colonialism itself, i.e. the specifically black subject – as object – in the gaze of the white (self-possessed) master. This is what liberalism, no matter how democratic, cannot appreciate: it cannot grasp what is at stake in these stagings of the colonial unconscious,..” (Hudson, “The State and Colonial Unconscious,” p.274).

In this way, the element of signification that I described last week is not as argumentatively infallible as it may have been presented; further, this quote from Hudson may completely subsume the link turn gains described last week as well. While this is all ~debatable~ in a certain capacity, the point is that that you will need to be careful when selecting cards from camp files.

After thoroughly establishing the range of scholars, ideas, and components for future research, you should take some time to think creatively about how you are going to make your version of this affirmative unique. This kind of thinking can include changing plan texts/advocacy statements, relying on specific solvency mechanism tricks, adding a personal narrative, etc.; however, the most important component of this work will be that you make your position as distinct as possible to yourself so that you are well prepared for teams who only engage your argument at the level that the camps have done. At this point, it really is your opportunity to shine and you can do so by asking questions like the following:

Why did X camp write this argument this way?

Why is this group of scholars often writing articles together?

What journals are publishing articles on my topic and why?

Who edits and owns these journals? Why do all of the articles keep saying the same thing about why x specific internal link is key for y specific reason?

Inasmuch as going to camp is not the be-all-end-all for excellence in debate, so too, should you remember that camp files represent the community’s first abstraction at a version of the topic.


Selecting Core Negative Generics

Now that you have looked at one side of the topic and made a determination regarding your own strengths, weaknesses, and areas for growth, it is time to develop a central negative strategy. No team—regardless of resources, commitment, etc.—will ever be prepared for every affirmative; indeed, this may be one of the few standards of predictability that we can hold to in our argumentation activity. In the midst of this predictable uncertainty forces us to exhibit a certain reliance on generic/core/central negative positions within which we can integrate smaller, nuanced layers of argument. However, this central negative strategy can and should vary depending on your argument style preferences, amount of time/energy you are willing to put into the argument, and the resources and support you have can easily access.

 For those partnerships that want to exclusively focus on critical literature, it would be a good idea to select three to five kritiks that you can use in any and all circumstances—this is to say, you need to be able to have a kritik of positivist state action, a kritik of identity-centered arguments, a kritik of post-structuralism and/or post-modernism, a kritik of the topic, and a kritik of performance/debate. For teams that are not interested in engaging in thorough critical research, you will need to bulk up on topic specific DA’s, the politics DA, topic-specific process counterplans, and topicality. For teams that are more ~flexible~ in their argumentation, you should have a topicality file, a politics DA, one to two kritiks, one to two topic specific disadvantages, and at least one topic specific process counterplan.

While this may appear to be an extensive amount of files for a two-person partnership, remember that you are likely to have versions of these arguments from last year that you can integrate into these files—for example, if you frequently go for the politics DA, you should already have a solid internal link/politics DA theory section that might only require you to make minor additions and updates (as I discussed in Part 1 of this topic discussion).

When developing your core negative arguments, you are going to want to be verifying that your evidence is of the highest quality and recency. Each negative position will typically have different components that need to be addressed. For most policy-based disadvantages, you will likely need to devote the most original research into the uniqueness and the link debate--no judge likes to hear a politics disadvantage in September with a uniqueness card from May. Counterplans, though, will not usually require the same kinds of updates. Instead, you are going to want to make sure that your solvency evidence advocates the text (or comes to as close of an approximation of advocacy as you are comfortable with) and that no major disadvantages to the counterplan were cut during the camp season. Then, you will want to do the same kind of research on the counterplan authors etc. as you did with your affirmative. In the case of topicality, you are typically best off by simply homogenizing all of the files you can find and removing any cards that are otherwise useless (i.e. cards from google definition, cards that do not say the things that the tags claim, cards from tweets, etc.).[1]

Updating your critical arguments (including framework) can be a bit difficult and tricky—especially if you are working with ideas that are relatively new (Dark Deleuze, for example) or ideas that are relevant to debate but not for scholars (the illusoriness of fiat in a simulation of policy discussion). Instead of attempting to do hyper-specific searches, it might instead behoove you to do a closer reading of what could be considered ‘classic versions of the argument’ (i.e. the Ericson framework card, for example) to get a complete grasp of why the argument as we know it today functions so popularly the way that it does. Oftentimes, this can ground you in the terms of the idea and give you an opportunity to ask questions about the assumptions of the idea (and our community’s engagement with that idea) so as to provide you with direction on how and where to innovate. 

The last piece of negative argument development to remember to do before the season starts involves impact defense and turns. One of the best ways of categorizing these arguments that I have found is, again, lining all of the individual pieces up in an Excel spreadsheet (although in the wild days of paper debate we used ‘tables of content’ (scary stuff)). These arguments will usually just need a uniqueness update as you would do with any disadvantage. However, it is important that you look up the impact scenario before you begin cutting evidence as the world changes quickly—trust me, if you are reading North Korean relations impact defense evidence from any time before the Trump administration judges may have a hard time giving your argument a whole lot of credibility.



            As September rolls around, you who are in the midst of this research process may have realized that you are doing a lot of individual and unique research (possibly, as much as done by a student at camp!). You may notice that you have just as much argument and/or topic knowledge as the debaters and coaches that you hold in the highest of esteem. Importantly, though, getting to this point of realization, regardless of ambition, does require determination.  You cannot just wish yourself into a world where your files are at the best quality for the beginning of the year as possible—the day-in-day-out labor involved in argument development of every kind is not something that you can simply request from yourself. It is a requirement, a limit, and a discipline that holds you to a mast in commitment to a vision for yourself. Stay strong in this conviction and know when to ask for help.

            As much as I have said about working diligently, so too should you understand my insistence on asking for help be as doubly important. Ask your coaches, your partner, older and younger students on your team, coaches who have judged you in the past, college debaters who you want to debate like, friends who have graduated and are debating in college now—ask, ask, ask! You may get few replies or you may get a deluge of responses, but the help you want to get will always begin by being contingent on the help that you ask for from those around you. Do not forget, though, to give back and help up those who got you (and your arguments) to where you wanted to be.




Peter Hudson (2013) The state and the colonial unconscious, Social Dynamics, 39:2, 263-277, DOI: 10.1080/02533952.2013.802867


[1] If there is interest in another part to this series that spotlights adapting topicality camp files, please let me know in the comments below! I would love to share more of my thoughts on this that could not fit into this post.


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