Editors note: Ethos has written on extra topicality more than once; for an alternative view on this theory issue, you can also read this article.
Effects topicality and extra topicality tend to bring on quite a bit of confusion within a debate round. Often, teams will argue that these situations are just fine and well within the boundaries. In reality, these terms are merely subsets under the broad heading of topicality. They are words that debaters use to describe certain prescribed situations that are branches of non-topicality.
First, let’s gain a better understanding of just what topicality is. Without limits, the affirmative team would win the round every time. The resolution is such a limit. It requires only topical action and no usage of negative ground. Topicality does not rest within the harms or advantages of an affirmative case. Topicality resides in the plan which is a particular example of the resolution which the affirmative team chooses to debate. The mandates plank is the only area of the affirmative case that must, in its entirety, be a topical enactment (or example) of the resolution. The affirmative is confined to resolutional action.
There are situations in debate where the affirmative team has topical harms/advantages, but a case that isn’t topical. This is what is known as “effects-topicality” or basically, a case that is outside of the boundaries of topicality, but has an effect within the topical boundaries.
Another situation is when the affirmative team has one or more topical mandates (examples of the resolution) and one or more non-topical mandates (items outside of the resolutional boundaries). This is known as extra-topicality. Teams do this often to gain an advantage over the negative in order to “spike” (make non-existent) a popular disadvantage to their case or because their case doesn’t stand upon its own merit and needs further mandates to ensure workability.
So, how do you, as a negative team, work with a case that falls within one of these areas? The first thing to remember is that topicality is binary. This means it has two states of existence. An example of the resolution is either wholly topical or it is wholly non-topical. There are no in-betweens. Either you are topical or you are not. There is no “almost” topical or “sort of” or “nearly” or “better than” or “mostly” topical. We came up with some nice debate words to describe those situations like Extra-topical or Effects-topical, but that does not change the binary nature of topicality. We just have some nice, new words to describe a certain type of non-topicality. So, to sum up, due to the binary nature of topicality, an affirmative team is either topical or non-topical when the mandates plank as a whole is examined. If even one mandate is non-topical, then the binary nature of topicality has been violated and topicality is lost.
There are two accepted approaches to choose from when dealing with these non-topical cases. One approach a negative team can use is to ask that the judge sever from the flow any non-topical (anything outside of the bounds of the resolution) mandates. This is because the affirmative team is limited to only topical enactments. Anything beyond topicality is outside of the boundaries of the round. Once these spikes are severed, the DAs still will exist.
Another approach is to employ the legislative technique. This simply would be to argue the case as non-topical. Since only a topical enactment can be passed and the case should be considered as a whole, if even one part of it is non-topical, the entire case must then be considered non-topical due to the binary nature of topicality.
As an affirmative, if your plan is ineffective unless you go outside the boundaries of the resolution, then you don’t have a good debate plan. You might have good public policy, but you don’t yet have a good debate plan. These aren’t the same thing. Debate resolutions are designed to give good debate ground for a little over an hour…this isn’t like real life. Things have to be restricted and limited. This is the reason for restricting the mandates plank to only topical action.