On the primacy of practice in research

“Researchers may be able to point out ways to `improve’ practice according to certain criteria, but they cannot assign to themselves the political act of legitimizing these criteria (cf. Ulrich, 1983, p. 308). It is an error to believe that good practice can be justified by reference to the research methods employed. Methods need to be justified by reference to their implications for practice, not the other way round!
In competent research, the choice of research methods and standards is secondary, that is, a function of the practice to be achieved. Good practice cannot be justified by referring to research competence. Hence, let your concern for good research follow your concern for understanding the meaning of good practice, not the other way round.

The suggested primacy of the concern for the outcome of a research project over the usually prevailing concern for research methodology (the `input’, as it were) is somewhat analogous to Kant’s (1788, p. A 215) postulate of the `primacy of practice’, by which he meant that practical (ethical) reasoning is more important than theoretical-instrumental reasoning; for practical reasoning leads us beyond the limitations of theoretical knowledge. I would therefore like to think of our conclusions in terms of a primacy of practice in research… ” (p. 9).


Ulrich, W. (2001). The quest for competence in systemic research and practice. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 18(1), 3-28.

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