Debate Stream on YouTube is streaming CEDA Nationals live. CEDA, anachronistically stands for Cross Examination Debate Association, but the debate style is that of American policy debate with all the speed, crazy citations, and wild combination of post-structuralist theory with contemporary political discourse you could want. It's shaping up to be a good weekend.
What isn't surprising is that it's being streamed - American policy debate has always been much further along in the dissemination of their product via internet video (with some disastrous results) yet still the personal risk of having a viewer substitute identity for in-round advocacy seems like a non-starter for the policy debate community. And they have had the worst imaginable impacts come from internet video!
What is surprising is that there is an on-screen, internet based flowing software that is being demonstrated on this stream. Dialectica is in an early stage in development, but it appears to be even more radical in its implications for debate than streaming video. The site allows for the user to flow a debate in a way that can be read by others and followed long after the debate is over.
American policy debate is highly technical in the way arguments are advanced and refuted. It is also highly technical in the delivery mechanism as well. Perhaps these two practices which are at the heart of American policy debate insulate participants from the fear that any outside observer will confuse presence with belief-in-advocacy. This software allows for there to be transcription - like one would do for a musical score - of a round in order to share it with those who can "read music" but can't attend the concert.
I for one am excited about using this program in my courses and for debate teaching. But its presence has be thinking a few generations down the line. What could this technology be used for? Clearly, the intent is teaching - providing high-quality transcriptions in technical, strategic discourse for the teaching of how to win debates from various positions. In short, there's nothing that different between this and chess notation - it's good that policy debate is moving toward a standardization of this sort. But what are the larger implications in a community that cannot give up the drive to turn everything into a strategy for winning tournament debates?
The implications of this technology are far more critical to debating than the implications of internet video or audio. Could a multi-tournament record of an argument being defeated by a particular card be held up as evidence in a debate that the judge is either a part of the "debating community" or not based on whether she votes on this card? Could a team go to a tab room with 2 years worth of decisions upholding "conditionality bad" in order to get a judge struck from judging them in the future? Could a team implicate an entire school or program as being mired in racism, colonialism, essentialism, etc. by bringing up the argument strategies of those long graduated, claiming that debating in the name of that program means that you implicitly endorse the ideology of these debaters?
What about consistency? Advocating for a particular "project" of some kind for 2 or 3 seasons, then changing tracks might be used as evidence that claims to in-round transformative advocacy are insincere. Attempts to win the ballot, stacked up over numerous 2NR and 2AR performances recorded last season seem to indicate a debater's performance in this round is inconsistent with such claims.
The concern here is of course that debate of any kind - American policy or BP - does not need any excuse, much less an attractive, easy to access technology, to become more inward looking. This program is amazing for what it can do for debate pedagogy and the teaching of things like "line by line argumentation" and the importance of "cross application" of evidence. But if past is prologue, the community will have to take a strong stand as to the limits of such an innovation. It doesn't take much for debate communities to take their own practices as grist for the competitive, modernist-toned, tournament mill.