Discourse Resolution Debate: A Model For Community Intellectual Discussions (The Final Part)

Aaron J. Alford
11 min readMar 22, 2019

This is part four of a four part series:

Part 1 can be read here

Part 2 can be read here.

Part 3 can be read here.

Part 4 can be read here.

In this final part of this series, I present to you my own thoughts on how a debate league could be run and created to emphasize pedagogy above the game. If you are with me this far, this may be of interest to you. This concept was developed by myself, and my former teammate Timothy Mattackal. It is called Discourse Resolution Debate, and its purpose to to allow a community of intellectuals to build a framework for interesting and demanding discussions upon.

Introduction To Discourse Resolution Debate

The Discourse resolution debate model is a model of debate which seeks to reorient debate from competitive game form of debate, to a civil critical dialogue which seeks truth and tolerance for difference over technique and clever tricks. In that spirit, the Alford critical debates do not have expert judges, but rather an educational advocate, whose role is to act as the problem-poser and educator, who gives feedback to the debaters and forum from a qualified position. The topic will be chosen and consented to by the debaters and audience.

The educational advocate should be in a position of expertise on the topics of debate, dialogue, and debate pedagogy. The position however is not hierarchical in nature, but rather seeks to place someone capable of moderating and considering the questions in front of the house from an unbiased and fair perspective, so as to offer the greatest amount of educational feedback to the students involved in the critical debates.

Education Goals

1. Critical evaluation of our times through topics focused on the most relevant and divisive issues

2. Provide tolerance for multiple points of view through a switch-side debate method.

3. Emphasize the development of analytical and critical thinking skills through learning how to reasonably design and respond to arguments.

4. Install a value for civil dialogue in moments of division in students through training is discursive resolution.

The goal of this project is not to replace competitive game debate, and we recognize the issues of scaling this model which may be involved for programs in a competitive scene, or who receive money on the basis of intercollegiate competition. This program may not be right for all schools and all goals for debate programs. However, we believe it is a valuable addition for training novices, involving the student body in debate and dialogue activities, and reconnecting debate with real life issues like civic education, civil dialogue with those we disagree with, and the development of public speaking skills in a low pressure environment, which competitive debate does not always provide. Because this program takes place in one room, and requires no tab or tournament organization, this is an easy model to execute.

Discourse Resolution Rules

A. Why we have rules.

Rules exist within the critical debates to provide constraints and structure to the conversation. It is the role of the critical educator to enforce any rules or standards mentioned hereafter, or created by the body.

B. Problem Posing education and purpose of debate.

These rules exist to ensure that the discourse resolution is structured in a way to provide a constructive and educational experience with problem-posing education. As such, the motion is the epicenter of the debate. The resolution is the problem which is posed by the house, to which the method of competing arguments is to be applied. We apply these arguments in pursuit of truth, the ultimate goal of any debate confrontation is not purely to win the argument, but instead to seek a synthesis and perspective through debate and dialogue with the forum (Ehringer, 1958). A competitive cooperation is the goal, and the removal of decision by judge removes one aspect of functional distortion in debaters argumentative orientation and provides an intrinsic motive to excellent debaters rather than a game one.

C. Burdens of proof

The burden of proof for any particular statement always exists to the person who has proposed the particular statement. If a statement is challenged by a test of validity, the following opportunity to speak, the team who has been challenged should provide at least one argument in favor of the point they have made. This is based on Habermas’s concept of testing criticisable statements with tests of validity.

D. Resolution, preparation, and disclosure

The Resolution:

The resolution should be appropriate for educational debate. Three resolutions for each week will be selected by the critical educator and/or debaters themselves, and presented to the body for a vote to consider the topics. Should the majority of people not vote in favor of the topics, another topic should be presented and the floor should be opened to resolutions presented by the body. Resolutions should be focused on the most divisive and relevant debates of our times and for the community of debaters who have gathered. That said, topics should not encourage discussion on overly traumatic experiences or information, and all heavy content should be prefaced with a trigger warning. We encourage resolutions which are particularly relevant or divisive for the local community of the debaters in the forum, we do not encourage personal attacks or debate over the legitimacy of various folks identities in the room.

Types of Resolutions:

The house may consider three primary types of questions. Those of policy, critical, and value. This reintroduces the discourses of the trichotomy, but with the addition of critical resolutions rather than fact, because fact resolutions have long been difficult to negotiate, and are less helpful for the development of discursive resolution than the addition of a self-reflective type of resolution.

a) Questions of policy are questions of how institutions should operate. They suggest a specific action which some institution should take, and the house takes the role of that institution. This is a deliberative discourse focused on collaboration, as such debaters should seek to understand the goals and values of multiple perspectives and attempt to find a solution which resolves those concerns. One can approach these questions from critical methodological grounds, or from practical policy affirmation.

b) Questions of value should be a primary types of resolution brought before this forum. THe most important questions we are to answer are ones that ask ethical questions of each member of the forum. it is wise to consider questions from the perspective of we as individuals, and our own ethical constraints. Value resolutions require a framework or criteria for how to decide the question of the resolution.

c) Questions of critical perspective are also essential to the forum, for many of the same reasons questions of value are. The forum should be concerned with question of norms, and should actively cultivate critiques of social and communicative norms. Critical resolutions can focus on either an institution of power, or on the forum itself.


Research will be done ahead of the debate, in the days leading up to the debate. Students will be assigned the topics the week before, so they may have ample time to prepare. Debaters should prepare their arguments and provide detailed warrants and analysis for their arguments. This is not card debate, all warrants may be in a single google document which is offline during the debate. Flowing is expected to be done on laptops, to save the trees.


The affirmative should inform the negative of the basic premise of their argument if it is requested. This is to reduce uncertainty for the negative, and to ensure a better prepared debate for all members involved. This is also to ensure that the negative debaters are comfortable with the material being presented by their opposition, and vice versa.

Roles of the teams:

The role of the affirmative (proposition team) is to define and explain the motion, and make an affirmative argument in favor of passing the motion which is being considered. The interpretation of the resolution should be within topical boundaries, and should be considered to be a reasonable interpretation of the motion in the context of the current cultural moment.
On intentionally non-topical affirmatives. These are appropriate only if the debaters can establish a framework which explains why the activist argument and format is justified and makes a difference, and should be situated within an exigence for the performance.

The role of the negative team (opposition team) is to respond to the affirmatives arguments and provide a critique of them. The negative can challenge the the facts and logic of the affirmative case, provide a counter motion (counterplan), or provide a critique of the assumptions underpinning the affirmative position (kritik).

a) Topicality: Should the interpretation of the topic be seen as unreasonable by the proposition team, they have the right to challenge the affirmative interpretation of the topic, and provide standards and evidence for why a different interpretation is the correct one. Procedurals are broadly encouraged as regulative speech acts which move the discursive space toward a more ideal speech environment.

F. Research burdens

1. The purpose of the discourse resolution debate model is to provide a forum for students to engage in problem posing education and civil dialogue with those that they disagree with. As such, the goal is always to correctly represent reality, the arguments and any authors cited in the debate. Students should be well researched and concrete in their approaches to issues, and be able to provide the sources of their arguments if needed.

Round Format

A. The debate format welcomes input from the house, so debaters are expected to be in attendance even when they are not debating.

B. The debate takes place with all members of the forum in the same room. Two teams of three will have been assigned their side of the resolution and prepared their respective arguments.

C. Teams and positions
1. There are 3 members of each team. The first speaker is the leader of the team. For the affirmative then they are the leader of the proposition or affirmative team, and for the negative they are the leader of the opposition or leader of the negative team. The other two members of each team are the member positions. They do cross examination and rebuttal speeches, and are no more or less important than the leading speaker

2. Speaker positions.

Affirmative Leader of the Proposition
1st Member of proposition
2nd Member of the proposition
Negative Leader of the opposition
1st Member of the opposition
2nd Member of the opposition
D. There are 10 total speeches, which total just under 1 hour. Each meeting should be about an hour and a half.

Proposition Constructive — 5 Minutes — Leader of the Proposition

The purpose of this speech is to present the full affirmative
argument in favor of the motion on the floor. This speech will provide a criteria for considering the motion, followed by carefully structured arguments and analysis in favor of the motion.

Opposition Cross Examination — 3 Minutes — Members of the Opposition

This is the negative cross examination, it is meant as a time of
clarification, so that the negative may understand the affirmative argument well enough to offer a reasoned response.

Opposition Constructive — 5 Minutes — Leader of the Opposition

The purpose of this speech is to offer the complete negative case
against the affirmative motion. The negative should avoid overly technical procedural debate, as the purpose of this forum is to pursue practical consensus, as opposed to winning a game. The negative may accept the criteria for considering the motion presented by the affirmative team, or they may counter this criteria and offer a different one which challenges the affirmative criteria.

Proposition Cross Examination — 3 Minutes — The leader of the Proposition and Second member of Proposition

This is the affirmative cross examination, it is meant as a time of
clarification. See above cross examination.

Proposition Rebuttal — 5 Minutes — 1st Member of the Proposition

The affirmative rebuttal must both respond to the negatives
arguments against the affirmative, as well as address the points of the negative which provide compelling offense against the motion.

Negative Rebuttal — 5 Minutes — 1st Member of the Opposition

The negative rebuttal should draw out the strengths of the
negative constructive, and continue to defend itself against the affirmative arguments presented in the previous speech.

Forum response — 15 Minutes (one minute speeches) — All present members welcome

This is a time of dialogue, in which all members of the body are
welcome to a 1 minute response or question for either team. The goal of this time is to establish the primary objections with both sides of the arguments presented.

Opposition Conclusion — 3 Minutes — 2nd Member of the Opposition

The second rebuttal should respond to primarily the forums
concerns, and choose only the most compelling points to discuss in the round.

Proposition Conclusion — 3 Minutes — 2nd Member of the Proposition

The final rebuttal should also respond to the concerns of the forum
primarily, and should refrain from offering any new analysis as the affirmative has completed

Speaker of the Forum Response — 5 Minutes — Speaker of the forum

The speaker response exists so that there can be feedback into the debate from someone with experience in rhetorical arguing. This can be a professor or an experienced student. They do not offer a vote, there are no judges in this format of debate, but feedback is an essential part of debate education.

V. The Speaker of the Forum (Critical Educator)

There is no judge in this form of debate, only a speaker of the forum, who ensures that the debate goes about smoothly. They are there to offer their expert opinion at the end of the round, and the pose the problem to the debaters (the motion). Their special insight should extend purely to the information and techniques used in the round, and they should refrain from presenting their position as the “correct” position. If you are the speaker of the forum, you should lead the meeting. This means calling the meeting to order, making sure that the rules and standards are upheld, and answering any questions the people around my have.

VI. Standards for speaking

Debaters should present their arguments as they would to a public forum. In other words, debaters should keep the speed and technique of their arguments within the limits of what one might consider comprehensible to the average listener.

The speed and quantity of arguments in a speech should not be rewarded as much as a well communicated, clearly structured argument. Should there be a time that an argument is not comprehensible due to speed or absurdity, it is appropriate for the critical educator to intervene on behalf of the body, to request a slower more deliberate debate that all can benefit from.

Technique, structure, and clever tricks will inevitably become important in
any competitive atmosphere, even one focused on civil discourse. With that in mind, when debaters use technical arguments, or critical approaches to debate that challenge the norm, these arguments should be presented clearly and not rely on previous knowledge of the position for success.


This alternative provides an innovative way of thinking about debates purposes beyond its competitive motives, an embodies a type of debate space that could be developed outside the demands of intercollegiate competition. Wickelgren (1989) suggested that competitive forensics should rely less on unwritten rules to solve format issues, and instead should implement more creative events. This format attempts to answer this call. The game aspect of debate has clear material impacts on the speech situation within the round of debate, and changing the format by eliminating hierarchal judging, introducing a mixed audience, and introducing a more discursive and civil orientation to the space could make debate a valuable space of inquiry and discovery for a broader base of students.

The NPDA’s issues are representative of the broader systemic issues with competitive debate. Debate as a pedagogical method aspires to create a space of competitive cooperation, within which debaters can develop knowledge and critical thinking skills which can be applied to their real world activities. The game aspect of debate alienates the NPDA from its educational roots, and makes the affair of debate into a technology of functional training rather than a space of problem-posing education. New innovative processes could be developed, but with the entrenchment of competitive debate into communication departments, innovation has been stifled. This proposal seeks to offer a new way of thinking about debate as a space of discourse resolution within a Habermasian perspective, and how debate could be restructured to better embody the deliberative democratic function which American debate was founded upon a century ago.



Aaron J. Alford

Media critique and memes. Writing about rhetoric and society. MA in Communication