Fairness, Predictability and Knowledge-Making Practices

Transcription of Dr. Shanara Reid-Brinkley lecturing WGA DF in November 2011, Carrollton, GA

Discussion includes talk about WGA Black Athena (Egypt) affirmative on the 2011-2012 democracy assistance topic.

I think one of the smartest arguments I saw Louisville (around 2008) make, which is really reformist in their intent but could be potentially revolutionary, was their argument that the debate community is in violation of the racial social contract for engagement. Louisville then argued that this justified their not being topical on the Aff so all of the oppositions fairness and predictability claims must be read against this original violation of the contract. Their argument wasn’t that we should just get rid of fairness or predictability claims. Once we get to a point where the kind of changes that we are identifying, like in knowledge making practices etc., then fairness and predictability claims may be more useful in that context. But if predictability claims are designed to maintain a certain manner of knowledge production or certain systems of power, then they are in violation of this idea of a social contract, they feed into the argument about the ontological status of the black in the context of anti-blackness. It demonstrates or operationalizes that the black has no place in civil society. When the black intends to speak from that position or to simply highlight that position in civil society, then how does society respond, it crowds it out, it says no. It says, you are out of place or out of order, you represent chaos. And what does the system do when it is confronted by chaos? It resolves the chaos to bring it back into order. The current ordering demands that society maintain the positionality of the black as the ontological other, while simultaneously structurally adjusting the black into civil society. Arguments like you can read a topical version of your affirmative seems like an example of the kind of structural adjustment Wilderson speaks to.

We are not just critiquing topic selection or topic development, we are also critiquing knowledge production in areas that we define in terms of research. So why isn’t your affirmative about Egypt and the concept of the development of democracy in the context of anti-blackness a predictable affirmative in the research literature. The reason it’s not predictable is because it’s not in the confines of the space we have identified as available for research. Your whole argument is an argument against the normative manner in which we draw the circle within the research literature. Your argument isn’t that there shouldn’t be a circle, that the topic can’t function as a circle. Sure we could attempt to affect the knowledge making practices by changing the topic or the process of selection for topics, but I fear that that may just be a surface level reformist change that won’t result in a change in the practices of knowledge that we participate in within the debate space. In other words, even if we changed topics to go beyond the traditional wording of contemporary topics, that may not result in changes in what the community conceptualizes as potential research areas within these new topic areas. If we really got into diversifying what we think of as areas of research, it’s not like we wouldn’t define some boundary with the topic, but what fits in the area of the topic would necessarily expand. To some extent that’s not that problematic, look how many affirmative’s are on this topic, we have all of these countries. You can do democracy assistance in any way, but we have decided that the only way that you can do democracy assistance is based on the way that the USFG has budgeted it. Because we have decided that that should be the line of predictability. We could have decided that the line of predictability lay elsewhere. In other words, the lines we draw are arbitrary, but not neutral. How about we just draw the line at what academic research has decided is the available space of conversation surrounding democracy assistance. Or how about we define it in the context of not just academic research but also what revolutionary activists, who are producing grassroots scholarship may have to add to the discussion. This style is not designed to allow people to say anything that they please in a debate round. At the end of criticism of normative debate practice, the project isn’t that we should be doing the same thing for the next 40 years of debate competition, instead this is a temporary intercession or intervention into the debate space. That temporary intervention is designed to create some potential changes in how we engage in topic selection, how we engage in research, who we believe are potential avenues for expert evidence, all of those things could potentially change. So that we could then understand what would be predictable in that frame because that would become the research space. The students in the movement are asking fundamental questions about what democracy is and what it means to participate in it. That they do so by questioning the practices of democracy within the United States in order to begin making an argument about how the United States can begin to help and support democratic revolutions abroad is an attempt to highlight the problematic practices of democracy and efforts to demonstrate its shortcomings. Otherwise we end up exporting our own democracy, which we admit is deeply flawed, to other nations absent a discourse of critically interrogating democracy, as not just a system of government, but a practice of everyday life. Debate changes, it grows, so there’s no reason why the debate community can’t come up with a means of stabilizing forms of predictability and provide fairness in terms of debatable ground in the context of this expansion or complication of what we consider as the available area of research.