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Lesson 2: The Structure of a K and The Purpose of Each of Its Components

A Kritik has the following parts:

A link is the part of the criticism that explains the connection between the scholarship you are reading and the actions of your opponent. In layman’s terms, think of the link as the part that explains why what your opponent did was bad. This is incredibly similar to how links function for disadvantages. On the negative, the link is based on things the affirmative does. Maybe their policy perpetuates classism and strengthens capitalism. Maybe they used ableist language in their 1AC. You can create any link as long as you can establish a strong connection. On the affirmative, the logic is the same, but now your links are to the status quo. It is a good idea to have multiple links, and many Ks often do. This can be a combination of carded evidence or analytical work. The more specific you are, the better.

The impact in a K functions the same way impacts work in other parts of debate. The impact tells us why we should care about the “bad” thing the link established. What happens? How are people’s lives affected? How are we affected? Some Kritiks might use impacts that have a large magnitude like extinction, but others often will focus on impacts that are more systemic. Understand that as long as you have the right framing—which we will discuss in the role of the ballot section—you can pick any impact that you feel convinced the judge “this is a problem we should really care about.” Be sure to consider not only how these impacts service your case but how these impacts can turn their case, outweigh their impacts, or infiltrate their framing as well. 

The alternative is the actual advocacy of the K. You can think of this as a counterplan (or the plan, if you are affirming). In other words, the alternative answers the question: what should we do to resolve the harms you have outlined? Alternatives are incredibly important—if they are too vague, you’ll have a hard time convincing judges that you actually do anything; if there isn’t one, all of your arguments become nonunique. When you are affirming, the alternative might just be the resolution (if you decide to be topical), or it can be more similar to alternatives seen on the negative. Similar to when you read a counterplan or a plan, this section will typically include a solvency advocate who explains your alternative and its results if implemented.

Note: Solvency looks different for Ks. Most Ks will not (and should not claim) that they can solve 100% of the issues the K presents. Rather, arguments will typically focus on how this is a necessary part of the fight or a precursor to any further action. The justification for this can come from your framing, which we will discuss now.

The most important concept associated with Ks, and what makes them so different from DAs and CPs, is the necessity to discuss the framework of the debate. Framework is an argument between the affirmative and the negative about what the judge should care most about. It is the lens through which the debate is evaluated. A traditional affirmative plays by the traditional rules of debate—students engaged in a debate round are participating in a game in which they put themselves in the shoes of policy makers and advocate for specific policies such as the plan text. Traditional affirmatives want the judge to vote based on whether the imaginary enactment of the policy is good (vote aff) or bad (vote neg). Kritiks question that traditional framework. 

Kritiks may argue that the judge should care more about which team promotes the most inclusive debate space or better combats certain systems of oppression. Kritiks are different from traditional frameworks in that they assert that the purpose of the round is not to pretend to be policy makers, but rather be students or academics, and that the team best playing that role should win the debate.

You can note how these different frameworks dramatically change what the judge cares about, and depending on which framework the judge thinks is best, will likely have a large impact on who wins the debate. While DAs and CPs attempt to fight the affirmative on shared ground, arguing that they have bigger impacts or solve similar impacts in a better way, Kritiks will often attempt to argue that the judge should care about different ground entirely. 

The most important part of any framework argument is the role of the ballot and the role of the judge. The role of the ballot (ROB) attempts to explain what voting affirmative or negative means. The role of the judge (ROJ) explains what the judge should be prioritizing in the debate round as an adjudicator of the debate. As discussed above, these arguments are special to Kritiks. 

Note for Policy debaters: Sometimes, especially in Policy Debate, you might not see a K explicitly label an argument a “role of the ballot” or “role of the judge,” but their criticism will still have an argument in it that serves the same purpose.

Note for Lincoln-Douglas debaters: Instead of using a value and a value criterion, a K uses the role of the ballot and/or role of the judge.

The following is a chart for our visual learners. Using the concept of feminism, there are examples of what each of the parts can look like:

Parts of a Kritik Chart

Framework Justifications

Typically, their justifications focus on either epistemology or pedagogy to explain their validity. Those are big words, so we’ll break them down.

Epistemology refers to how we know what we know. As mentioned in the definition of a K, these positions usually challenge our assumptions. Our assumptions are based on what we think we know. If you go outside during the day, you’ll assume it will be bright because that’s how it usually is. These assumptions apply to things that aren’t so obvious as well. For example, many people assume that if they work hard, they will be rewarded and succeed in life. Why? Schooling, social interactions, personal experiences, and other aspects of their world have told them this. Ks wish to disrupt this automatic process and reorient how we know what we know. A K that focuses on epistemology would, for example, challenge schooling for instilling this in you. It might even go so far as to say that belief is a lie meant to prevent us from questioning how other factors can rob people of blessings in life. There are hard working women who still do not have access to equal pay. There are hard working African Americans who still do not have the same benefits as their white counterparts. A K would argue that social structures, like gender and race, influence that and we must do the work to recognize these things. Thus, a debater might argue that the role of the ballot is to “challenge capitalist mindsets.” That is because they can explain how capitalism wrongfully shapes what we know and we need to change it.

Pedagogy, on the other hand, refers to how we teach things. For example, think of the best teacher you have ever had. While everyone has different learning styles, most people will remember the teacher who wished to engage with them. They will remember the teacher who played games, who listened to them, who taught them new and exciting things in new and exciting ways. That is because we understand the way things are taught drastically affects how we learn. 

To apply this line of thinking to debate, arguments about pedagogy assume that debate is an educational activity where we are all learning. The way we debate, judge rounds, and interact with each other shapes what we take from the debate round. Ks that focus on pedagogical justifications will argue that their model of debate and their scholarship are crucial tools to change how we learn in debate (for the better). For example, a debate community where sexism is never discussed will probably teach students to never think of those issues. In comparison, discussing sexism in educational spaces provides a new way for students to learn and increases the chances of them taking this knowledge and using it to create change in the world.