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Debate (American English) or debating (British English) is a formal method of interactive and position representational argument. Debate is a broader form of argument than logical argument, which only examine the consistency from axiom, and factual argument, which only examine what is or isn't the case or rhetoric which is technique of persuasion. Though logical consistency, factual accuracy as well as some emotional appeal to audience are important elements of the art of persuasion, in debating, one side often prevails over the other side by presenting superior "context" and/or framework of the issue, which is far more subtle and strategic.

In a formal debating contest, there are rules enabling people to discuss and decide on differences, within a framework defining how they will interact. Informal debate is a common occurrence, but the quality and depth of a debate improves with knowledge and skill of its participants as debaters. Deliberative bodies such as parliaments, legislative assemblies, and meetings of all sorts engage in debates. The outcome of a debate may be decided by audience vote, by judges, or by some combination of the two. Formal debates between candidates for elected office, such as the leaders debates and the U.S. presidential election debates, are common in democracies.

A rule-based competitive debate is often encouraged in high schools and colleges. Often, it takes the form of a contest with explicit rules. It may be presided over by one or more judges. Each side seeks to win, by following the rules, and even by using some rules to break other rules, within limits. Each side is either in favor ("for, 'Affirmative' "), or opposed to ("against, 'Negative' "), a statement (proposition or Resolution) which if adopted would change something with the exception of some high school and college debate where moots may hold no outcome ie. the moot "ignorance is bliss". Some of the rules are broad and must be followed in a general way. For example, those in favor of the proposition are

  • required to show the need for it to be adopted as it is written, and yet are
  • allowed to define the scope of the proposition; i.e. they choose what it will mean if adopted.

To further illustrate the importance of rules, those opposed must destroy these arguments, sufficiently to warrant not adopting the proposition, and are not required to propose any alternative solutions.

The major goal of the study of debate as a method or art is to develop one's ability to play from either position with equal ease. To inexperienced debaters, some propositions appear easier to defend or to destroy; to experienced debaters, any proposition can be defended or destroyed after the same amount of preparation time, usually quite short. Lawyers argue forcefully on behalf of their client, even if the facts appear against them. However one large misconception about debate is that it is all about argument; it is not.

Debate and argumentation theoryEdit

All forms of debate, whether consciously or not, make certain assumptions about argumentation theory. The core concept of argumentation theory is the notion of advocacy. In most cases, at least one side in a debate needs to maintain the truth of some proposition or advocate some sort of personal or political change or action. A debate could also potentially be between two or more competing propositions or actions. Or debate could also be a purely performative exercise of charisma and emotion with no assumption of fixed advocacy, but it would possibly lose much of its coherence and educational tour.

Parliamentary debateEdit

Main article: Parliamentary debate

Parliamentary Debate (sometimes referred to as "parli" in the United States) is conducted under rules derived from British parliamentary procedure. It features the competition of individuals in a multi-person setting. It borrows terms such as "government" and "opposition" from the British parliament (although the term "proposition" is used rather than "government" when debating in the United Kingdom).

Throughout the world, parliamentary debate is what most countries know as "debating", and is the primary style practiced in the United Kingdom, Australia, India and most other nations. The premier event in the world of parliamentary debate, the World Universities Debating Championship, is conducted in the British Parliamentary style.

Even within the United Kingdom, however, 'British Parliamentary' style is not used exclusively; the English-Speaking Union runs the national championships for schools in a unique format, known as the 'Mace' format after the name of the competition, while simultaneously using British Parliamentary format for the national universities championships.

In the United States the American Parliamentary Debate Association is the oldest national parliamentary debating organization, based on the east coast and including all of the Ivy League, although the more recently founded National Parliamentary Debate Association (NPDA) is now the largest collegiate sponsor. The National Parliamentary Debate League (NPDL) is the umbrella organization for all parliamentary debating at the secondary school level in the United States. And in Canada, the Canadian Universities Society for Intercollegiate Debating (CUSID) is the umbrella organization for all university-level debating; at the secondary school level, the Canadian Student Debating Federation (CSDF) has the same function.

Topics in parliamentary debate can either be set by the tournament or determined by the debaters as the "Government" side begins. In many forms of the activity rhetoric and style, as well as the more traditional knowledge and research, can play a significant role in determining the victor with marks shared equally between matter and manner. It has been widely labeled as the most democratic form of educational debate.

Mace DebateEdit

This style of debate is arguably the most prominent in Britain, with the national schools competition undoubtedly the most prestigious of its kind. Two teams of two debate an affirmative motion (e.g "This house would give prisoners the right to vote,") which one team will propose and the other will oppose. Each speaker will make a seven minute speech in the order; 1st Proposition, 1st Opposition, 2nd Proposition, 2nd Opposition. After the first minute of each speech, members of the opposing team may request a point of information. If the speaker accepts they are permitted to ask a question. P.O.Is are used to pull the speaker up on a weak point, or to argue against something the speaker has said. However after 6 minutes, no more P.O.Is are permitted. After all four have spoken the debate will be opened to the floor, in which members of the audience will put questions to the teams. After the floor debate, one speaker from each team (traditionally the first speaker), will speak for 4 minutes. In these summary speeches it is typical for the speaker to answer the questions posed by the floor, answer any questions the opposition may have put forward, before summarising his or her own key points. In the Mace format, emphasis is typically on analytical skills, entertainment, style and strength of argument. The winning team will typically have excelled in all of these areas.

Public DebateEdit

Main article: Public debate

Public debate is a style of debate involving two teams of two. Each team is given their topic at the beginning of a round, along with the side they are to take. The teams are given 15 minutes to create an outline before they begin to debate. Because the topic of the debate is unknown to the speakers until before the debate, it requires little planning and instead a wide knowledge of different topics.

Australasia debateEdit

Main article: Australia-Asia debate

Australasia style debates consist of two teams who debate over an issue, more commonly called a topic or proposition. The issue, by convention, is presented in the form of an affirmative statement beginning with "That", for example, "That cats are better than dogs," or "This House", for example, "This House would establish a world government." The subject of topics varies from region to region. Most topics however, are usually region specific to facilitate interest by both the participants and their audiences.

Each team is comprised of three members, each of whom is named according to their team and speaking position within his/her team. For instance the second speaker of the affirmative team to speak is called the "Second Affirmative Speaker" or "Second Proposition Speaker", depending on the terminology used. Each of the speakers' positions is based around a specific role, the third speaker for example has the opportunity to make a rebuttal towards the opposing teams argument introducing new evidence to add to their position. The last speaker is called the "Team Advisor/Captain". Using this style, the debate is finished with a closing argument by each of the first speakers from each team and new evidence may not be introduced. Each of the six speakers (three affirmative and three negative) speak in succession to each other beginning with the Affirmative Team. The speaking order is as follows: First Affirmative, First Negative, Second Affirmative, Second Negative, Third Affirmative, and finally Third Negative.

The context in which the Australasia style of debate is used varies, but in Australia and New Zealand is mostly used at the Primary and Secondary school level, ranging from small informal one-off intra-school debates to larger more formal inter-school competitions with several rounds and a finals series which occur over a year.

Asian Universities Debating ChampionshipEdit

Main article: AUDC

This is the biggest debating tournament in Asia, where teams from the Middle East to Japan come to debate. It is traditionally hosted in southeast Asia where participation is usually highest compared to other parts of Asia.

Asian debates are largely an adaptation of the Australasian format. The only difference is that each speaker is given 7 minutes of speech time and there will be points of information (POI) offered by the opposing team between the 2nd to 6th minutes of the speech. This means that the 1st and 7th minute is considered the 'protected' period where no POI's can be offered to the speaker.

The debate will commence with the Prime Minister's speech (first proposition) and will be continued by the first opposition. This alternating speech will go on until the third opposition. Following this, the opposition bench will give the reply speech.

In the reply speech, the opposition goes first and then the proposition. The debate ends when the proposition ends the reply speech. 4 minutes is allocated for the reply speech and no POI's can be offered during this time.

Policy debateEdit

Main article: Policy Debate

Policy Debate is a style of debating where two teams of two debaters advocate or oppose a plan derived from a resolution that usually calls for a change in policy by a government. Teams normally alternate, and compete in rounds as either "affirmative" or "negative". In most forms of the activity, there is a fixed topic for an entire year or another set period. In comparison to parliamentary debate, policy debate relies more on researched evidence and tends to have a larger sphere of what is considered legitimate argument, including counterplans, critical theory, and debate about the theoretical standards of the activity itself. While rhetoric is important and reflected in the "speaker points" given to each debater, each round is usually decided based on who has "won" the argument according to the evidence and logic presented. Additionally, in certain segments of the activity, debaters may "spread" (speak very rapidly), in order to present as much evidence and information as possible and counter the other side.

Policy Debate is mostly practiced in the United States (where it is sometimes referred to as Cross-Examination, or CX debate), although it has been attempted in Europe and Japan and has certainly influenced other forms of debate. Its evolution has been towards what some see as a more esoteric style.

Classical debateEdit

Classical debate is a relatively new debate format, first created and primarily practiced in the state of Minnesota. It was formed as an alternative to Policy debating. Certain judges and coaches felt that the development of Policy had led it to become an extremely specialized form of debate with heavy reliance on near-incomprehensible speed in speaking and less emphasis on real-world arguments in favor of "strategic" arguments that often bordered on the near-absurd. With a structure similar to that of Policy, Classical debate emphasizes logic and real-world discussion. For this reason, it is often nicknamed "Policy Lite".

As opposed to Policy, where each Affirmative proposes a new plan, classical debate is simpler: one resolution is chosen at the beginning of the season, which the Affirmative affirms and Negative negates. The emphasis on depth instead of breadth provided by the restriction can make for interesting rounds that often come down to arguments that might otherwise pale in other formats.

Extemporaneous debateEdit

Extemporaneous debate is a style involving no planning in advance, and two teams with a first and second speaker. While a majority of judges will allow debaters to cite current events and various statistics (of which opponents may question the credibility) the only research permitted are one or more articles given to the debaters along with the resolution shortly before the debate. It begins with an affirmative first-speaker constructive speech, followed by a negative; then an affirmative and negative second-speaker constructive speech respectively. Each of these speeches are six minutes in length, and are followed by two minutes of cross examination. There is then an affirmative and negative first-speaker rebuttal, and a negative and affirmative second-speaker rebuttal, respectively. These speeches are each four minutes long. No new points can be brought into the debate during the rebuttals.

This style of debate generally centers around three main contentions, although a team can occasionally use two or four. In order for the affirmative side to win, all of the negative contentions must be defeated, and all of the affirmative contentions must be left standing. Most of the information presented in the debate must be tied in to support one of these contentions, or "sign posted". Much of extemporaneous debate is similar to policy debate; one main difference, however, is that extemporaneous debate focuses less on the implementation of the resolution.

Lincoln-Douglas debateEdit

Main article: Lincoln-Douglas debate

Lincoln-Douglas debate, a form of United States high school debate named after the Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858, is a one-on-one event focused mainly on applying philosophical theories to real world issues. Debaters normally alternate sides from round to round as either the "affirmative", which upholds the resolution, or "negative", which attacks it. The resolution, which changes bimonthly, asks whether a certain policy or action conforms to a specific value.

Though established as an alternative to policy debate, there has been a strong movement to embrace certain techniques that originated in policy debate (and, correspondingly, a strong backlash movement). Plans, counterplans, critical theory, postmodern theory, debate about the theoretical basis and rules of the activity itself, and critics have all reached more than occasional, if not yet universal, usage. Lincoln-Douglas speeches can range from a conversational pace to well over 300 wpm (when trying to maximize the number of arguments and depth of each argument's development). There is also a growing emphasis on carded evidence, though still much less than in policy debate. These trends have created a serious rift within the activity between the debaters, judges, and coaches who advocate or accept these changes, and those who vehemently oppose them.

Policy and Lincoln-Douglas debate tournaments are often held concurrently at the same school.

Karl Popper debateEdit

Karl Popper debate, named after the famed philosopher, is a widely used debate format in Eastern European and Central Asian high schools. Originally created by the Open Society Institute as a more flexible team debate format, Karl Popper debate has risen greatly in popularity as the first format that many high school students learn. It focuses on relevant and often deeply divisive propositions, emphasizing the development of critical thinking skills, and tolerance for differing viewpoints. To facilitate these goals, debaters work together in teams of three, and must research both sides of each issue. Constructed similarly to the Lincoln-Douglas debate format, each side is given the opportunity to offer arguments and direct questions to the opposing side. The first speakers of each side have 6 minutes to present their constructive cases, or in the negative's case a rebuttal. The other 4 speakers each have 5 minutes to deliver a speech supporting their team's main arguments. There is also an allotted 3 minutes after each of the first 4 speeches for cross-examination, during which the opposing team has a chance to clarify what was stated in the preceding speech.

Each year, the International Debate Education Association hosts an annual Youth Forum, during which the Karl Popper World Championships are held. Nations from all around the world attend this Forum for the tournament, as well as the 2 week debate training camp.

Simulated legislatureEdit

High school debate events such as Student Congress, Model United Nations, European Youth Parliament, Junior State of America and the American Legion's Boys State and Girls State events are activities which are based on the premise of simulating a mock legislature environment.

Impromptu DebateEdit

Main article: Impromptu debate

Impromptu debate is a relatively informal style of debate, when compared to other highly structured formats. The topic for the debate is given to the participants between fifteen and twenty minutes before the debate starts. The debate format is relatively simple; each team member of each side speaks for five minutes, alternating sides. A ten-minute discussion period, similar to other formats' "open cross-examination" time follows, and then a five-minute break (comparable to other formats' preparation time). Following the break, each team gives a 4-minute rebuttal.

Moot court and mock trialEdit

In the United Kingdom the national mooting championships are run by the English-Speaking Union.

Public Forum debateEdit

Main article: Public forum debate

Public forum debate was established in 2002 by the National Forensic League. It is designed to teach students to debate in a manner that is accessible to ordinary people, rather than other debaters. Public Forum combines aspects of both Policy debate and Lincoln-Douglas debate, with shorter speech lengths and more frequent changes in resolution that serve to emphasize brevity and eloquence over exhaustive research and technical debating.

Paris Style DebatingEdit

This is a new, specifically French format. Two teams of five debate on a given motion. One side is supposed to defend the motion while the other must defeat it. The debate is judged on the quality of the arguments, the strength of the rhetoric, the charisma of the speaker, the quality of the humor, the ability to think on one's feet and, of course, the teamwork.

The first speaker of the Proposition (Prime Minister) opens the debate, followed by the first speaker of the Opposition (Shadow Prime Minister), then the second speaker of the Proposition and so on.

Every speaker speaks for 6 minutes. After the first minute and before the last minute, debaters from the opposite team may ask Points of Information, which the speaker may accept or reject as he wishes (although he is supposed to accept at least 2).

The French Debating Association[1] organizes its National Debating Championship upon this style.

Other forms of debateEdit

Online debatingEdit

With the increasing popularity and availability of the Internet, differing opinions arise frequently. Though they are often expressed via flaming and other forms of argumentation, which consist primarily of assertions, there do exist formalized debating websites, typically in the form of online forums or bulletin boards. The debate style is interesting, as research and well thought out points and counterpoints are possible because of the obvious lack of time restraints (although practical time restraints usually are in effect, e.g., no more than 5 days between posts, etc.).Forums are Moderated and welcome online debaters in a friendly format sp all may speak their pros and cons. Many people use this to strengthen their points, or drop their weaker opinions on things, many times for debate in formal debates (such as the ones listed above) or for fun arguments with friends. The ease-of-use and friendly environments make new debaters welcome to share their opinions in many communities.

U.S. presidential debatesEdit

File:FordCarter.jpg
Main article: United States presidential election debates

Since the 1976 general election, debates between presidential candidates have been a part of U.S. presidential campaigns. Unlike debates sponsored at the high school or collegiate level, the participants, format, and rules are not independently defined. Nevertheless, in a campaign season heavily dominated by television advertisements, talk radio, sound bites, and spin, they still offer a rare opportunity for citizens to see and hear the major candidates side-by-side. The format of the presidential debates, though defined differently in every election, is typically more restrictive than many traditional formats, forbidding participants to ask each other questions and restricting discussion of particular topics to short time frames.


See also: Leaders debate



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