Debating the Clash of Civilizations- "Project" debates- Part II

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Today I’ll be covering the second article in the Project debate section, “Personalizing debate: diversity and tolerance in the debate community” by Dr. Joseph Zompetti (Contemporary Argumentation and Debate; Sept 2004; Vol 25). Dr. Zompetti is a good friend of mine and I’ve been looking forward to writing this review for the past week. He coached me some my senior year in high school, and although some may not like him as a critic, as a coach I learned a lot from him, and not just about debate. I’ve never had another coach who gave me as much confidence going into rounds as he did. However, don’t take these comments to be ideological identification with his article and arguments against Project debate, or, for that matter, identification with the Bruschke and Warner article.

Dr. Zompetti begins his article agreeing with some parts of Project debate, including the lack of diversity in debate. He says that “policy debate is at a crossroads as a result.” But before making recommendations for how to deal with this problem, and specifically addressing Project debate, Zompetti answers the Freire critical pedagogy criticism. While he “generally agrees” with this argument, he’s not sure that personalized debate “falls within its purview.” He explains: “As a matter of fact, the dialogic nature of debate can actually foster the organic learning process of critical pedagogy, absent personalizing it.”

Zompetti identifies two main problems with Project, and personalized debate. The first is what he sees as “appeals to victimage.” “Through victimage and scapegoating, a rhetor uses a purification ritual as a means of identifying and blaming the guilt onto an ‘appropriate’ other.” In his view, debaters “gain credit” for being victims. And although he’s sees nothing wrong with discussions of under representation and the exclusive practices in debate, Zompetti says “such arguments should not be the focus of debate competition.” He raises three other problems with such appeals: first, that the problems occur at the community level, and many debaters may not be aware, or prepared to address them; second, that it makes judging debates harder; and finally, that these issues are not debatable, “no clash can occur.”

Zompetti’s second criticism of project debate is that it deflects, even rejects, the “cause of marginalization.” Citing Dana Cloud, he argues that personalized debate “stifles dissent,” which he feels is more important “than particularized attention to therapeutic, albeit victimized, perspectives.” In essence, his argument is that debate should focus on the community rather than individuals. Quoting Cloud, Zompetti writes, “such therapeutic arguments ‘deflect [sic] the energy and radicalism of activists,’ essentially creating a shell-game during private discussions of much larger societal problems.” He also identifies the competitive nature of debate, as well as time constraints, as barriers to finding solutions to the issues raised in personalized debate. “If we are serious about creating a climate of tolerance, respect and diversity, then much deeper, structural (i.e., not personalized) issues must be addressed first.” The real, “revolutionary” change, must occur at a community and structural level.

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