Volume 2 Issue 2 (2006)
Provocative Idea

Rethinking Critically Reflective Research Practice: Beyond Popper’s Critical Rationalism

Werner Ulrich
University of Fribourg, Switzerland, and The Open University, UK
Published October 10, 2006
  • critical rationalism,
  • science theory,
  • empirical foundationalism,
  • primacy of theory,
  • methodology choice,
  • reflective practice,
  • Karl R. Popper
  • ...More


We all know that ships are safest in the harbor; but alas, that is not what ships are built for. They are destined to leave the harbor and to confront the challenges that are waiting beyond the harbor mole. A similar challenge confronts the practice of research. Research at work cannot play it safe and stay in whatever theoretical and methodological harbors in which it may have found shelter in the past. Still less can it examine and maintain its foundations in the dry dock. Research is more like a ship that must be repaired on the open sea. Yet foundationalist ideas persist in the practice of research. Counter to what is often assumed, today’s dominating model for research--the fallibilist model of critical rationalism--has not really overcome the empirical foundationalism of earlier, positivist research practices. This paper analyses two major foundationalist traps that are currently in the upswing and work against reflective research practice.