Alfred Schütz

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Alfred Schütz
Alfred Schütz.jpg
Austrian sociologist
Born (1899-04-13)April 13, 1899
Vienna, Austria-Hungary
Died May 20, 1959(1959-05-20) (aged 60)
New York City, New York
Nationality Austrian-American
Institutions The New School
Alma mater University of Vienna
Doctoral advisor Hans Kelsen
Known for Social phenomenology
Influences Ludwig von Mises, Henri Bergson, William James, Edmund Husserl, Max Weber
Influenced Peter Ludwig Berger, Thomas Luckmann, Harold Garfinkel, David Sudnow, Dan Zahavi

Alfred Schütz (13 April 1899 – 20 May 1959) was an Austrian social scientist, whose work bridged sociological and phenomenological traditions to form a social phenomenology. Notably, Schütz is "gradually achieving recognition as one of the foremost philosophers of social science of the [twentieth] century".[1] Schütz "attempted to relate the thought of Edmund Husserl to the social world and the social sciences. His Phenomenology of the Social World supplied philosophical foundations for Max Weber's existing sociology and for economics", with which he was familiar.[2]

Schütz believes that, "There will be, however, different opinions about whether this behavior should be studied in the same manner in which the natural scientist studies his object ... [W]e take the position that the social sciences have to deal with human conduct and its commonsense interpretation in the social reality, involving the analysis of the whole system of projects and motives, or relevances and constructs ... Such an analysis refers by necessity to the subjective point of view." [3]


Schütz was born in Vienna, Austria, into an upper-middle-class Jewish family as an only child. Following his graduation from high school he was drafted into the Austrian army, where he quickly rose to the American army equivalent rank of second lieutenant within an army regiment that was promptly dispatched to fight in series of heavy battles on the Italian front. As noted by Wagner (1983) [4] his experience of combat in tandem with his returning to starving and economically decimated Vienna created an enduring sense of estrangement from the post-war social order and subsequently a search for meaning in life. However, out of necessity Schütz enrolled at the University of Vienna, where he enrolled at the Viennese Academy of International Trade from 1919 to 1920 while also adopting a concentration in International Law. After developing a well-established and prominent career in international banking, Schütz married Ilse Heim in 1926. In 1933 the threat of Hitler’s rise in Germany caused Schütz and other Viennese intellectuals to flee Austria in order to seek asylum in allied countries. Consequently, Schütz and his family relocated to Paris in 1938 in political exile. Schütz worked as an international lawyer for Reitler and Company, and moved to the United States in 1939, where he became a member of the faculty of The New School. He taught sociology and philosophy as well as serving as chair of the Philosophy department. Schütz is unique as a scholar of the social sciences in that he pursued a career as a lawyer for an Austrian banking firm for almost his entire life, teaching part-time at the New School for Social Research in New York and producing key papers in phenomenological sociology that fill four volumes (published by Nijhoff, The Hague). Most of his academic work was done "part-time," while working full-time at the bank. Schütz received a substantial amount of assistance from his wife Ilse, who transcribed his working notes and letters from his taped dictations.[5] Schütz died in New York City at the age of 60.[6]

Intellectual life[edit]

While Schütz primarily focused on phenomenology and social science methodology his principal aim was to create a philosophical foundation for the social sciences. Schutz was strongly influenced by Ludwig von Mises, Henri Bergson, William James, and Edmund Husserl. Contrary to common belief, while Schutz’s work paralled George Herbert Mead’s analysis of the meanings within social interactions, Schutz was highly critical of Mead’s behavioristic approach.[7] Although Schütz was never a student of Husserl he and colleague Felix Kaufmann intensively studied Husserl's work in order to seek a basis for the interpretive sociology derived from Max Weber. In 1932 Schutz’s efforts resulted in his first published book, Der sinnhafte Aufbau der sozialen Welt ( literally translated as:The meaningful construction of the social world) which was published in English as The Phenomenology of the Social World. "Schütz took up the general emphasis of phenomenology. He argues that everyday life, apart from scientific or philosophical theories, is the most important focus of analysis." [8] The publication brought him to the attention of Husserl, whom he 'frequently thereafter visited'; but 'although he corresponded with Husserl until the latter's death [in 1938], he was unable to accept the offer to become his assistant'[7] at Freiburg University for personal reasons.

Schütz's main concerns were with how people grasp the consciousness of others while they live within their own stream of consciousness. He talked much about intersubjectivity but in a larger sense. He used it to mean a concern with the social world, specifically the social nature of knowledge. A great deal of his work deals with the "life world". Within this, people create social reality as well as they are constrained by the preexisting factors and structures that are in place both socially and culturally. He was very focused on the "dialectical relationship between the way people construct social reality and the obdurate social and cultural reality that they inherit from those who preceded them in the social world"[9]

Legacy and influence[edit]

Schütz's writings had a lasting impact on sociology, both on phenomenological approaches to sociology (especially through the work of Thomas Luckmann and Peter L. Berger) and in ethnomethodology through the writings of Harold Garfinkel. Luckmann was heavily influenced by Schütz's work. Luckmann, a student of Schütz's (along with Peter L. Berger), ultimately finished Schütz's work on the structures of the Lifeworld after Schütz died by filling out his unfinished notes. Berger and Luckmann went on to use Schütz's work to further understand human culture and reality, through the development of a new form of the sociology of knowledge.[10] As noted by Farganis (2011) Peter Berger is arguably the best-known living sociologist influenced by Schutz owing to his authorship of social construction theory which explain how the processes of externalization, objectication, and internalization contribute to the social construction of reality.[11]


Phenomenology originated with Edmund Husserl. Schütz met Husserl and studied his work. Phenomenology is the study of things as they appear (phenomena). It is also often said to be descriptive rather than explanatory: a central task of phenomenology is to provide a clear, undistorted description of the ways things appear".[12] There are many assumptions behind phenomenology that help explain its creation. First, it rejects the concept of objective research. Phenomenologists would rather group presumptions through a process called phenomenological epoche. Second, phenomenology believes that analyzing the daily human behavior will provide one with a comprehensive understanding of nature. The third assumption is that persons, not individuals, should be explored and questioned. Sociologically speaking, this is in part because persons can be better understood by the unique ways they reflect and symbolize the society he or she lives in. Fourth, phenomenologists prefer to gather “capta,” or conscious experience, rather than traditional data. Finally, phenomenology is considered to be oriented on discovery, and therefore phenomenologists gather research using methods that are far less restricting than in other sciences.[13]

Phenomenological sociology[edit]

As noted by Farganis (2011) phenomenological sociology is characterized as particularly subjective in nature because its emphasis of understanding reality through the perspective through the acting subject rather than the lens of the scientific observer.[14] Rather than attempting to uncover and document the social structures which influence our social world Schultz and other sociological phenomenologists seek not only to identify the content of our consciousnes related to our conception of the social reality of everyday life but also, how this reality comes to assume the form it is.[14] In essence, Schutz and social phenomenologists are principally concerned with the happenings of everyday life or what Schultz refers to as the ‘life world’. As noted by Ritzer (2011) the life world “is an intersubjective world in which people both create social reality and are constrained by the preexisting social and cultural structures created by their predecessors."[15] Within this world, relationships between the social and natural world are what come into doubt. There is this existence of meaning which comes into play yet most people simply accept the world how it is and never second guess the concept or problem of meaning.[14] Schütz delves even more into specific relationships such as the difference between intimate face-to-face relationships and distant and impersonal relationships.

The Four Divisions of the Lifeworld[edit]

'Schütz is, according to Natanson, "phenomenology's spokesman of the Lebenswelt"...the mundane lifeworld',[16] which he divided into four distinct subworlds in what has been called 'the crux of Schütz's theoretical contribution. He believes that our social experience makes up a vast world...distinguish[d] between directly experienced social reality and a social reality lying beyond the horizon of direct experience'.[17] The former consisted of the Umwelt of what Schütz termed "consociates" or "fellow-men" - of the man who 'shares with me a community of space and a community of time'.[18]

By contrast, 'those who I am not directly perceiving fall into three classes. First comes the world of my contemporaries (Mitwelt), then the world of my predecessors (Vorwelt), and finally the world of my successors (Folgewelt)'.[17] The last two represent the past and the future, whereas one's contemporaries share a community of time, if not space, and 'are distinguished from the other two by the fact that it is in principle possible for them to become my consociates'.[17]

Schütz was interested in mapping 'the transition from direct to indirect two poles between which stretches a continuous series of experiences',[19] as well as in what he called the progressive anonymisation of the Mitwelt: a 'scale of increasing anonymity. There is, for instance, my absent friend, his brother whom he has described to me, the professor whose books I have read, the postal clerk, the Canadian Parliament, abstract entities like Canada herself, the rules of English grammar, or the basic principles of jurisprudence'.[20] For Schütz, 'the further out we go into the world of contemporaries, the more anonymous its inhabitants become', ending with the most anonymous of all - 'artifacts of any kind which bear witness to the subjective meaning-context of some unknown person',[21] but nothing more.

In his later writings, Schütz explored the way that 'in social situations of everyday life relations pertaining to all these dimensions are frequently various degrees of anonymity'.[22] Thus for instance, 'if in a face-to-face relationship with a friend I discuss a magazine article dealing with the attitude of the President and Congress toward ... China ... I am in a relationship not only with the perhaps anonymous contemporary writer of the article but also with the contemporary individual or collective actors on the social scene designated by the terms "President", "Congress", "China"'.[23]

Bibliographic timeline[edit]


  • Der sinnhafte Aufbau der sozialen Welt: eine Einleitung in die verstehende Soziologie. Wien: J. Springer.


  • "William James' Concept of the Stream of Consciousness Phenonemologically Interpreted." In Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. 1: 442–451.


  • "Scheler's Theory of Intersubjectivity & the General Thesis of the Alter Ego." In Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. 2: 323–347.


  • "The Stranger." In "American Journal of Sociology". 49 (6): 499-507.


  • "On Multiple Realities." In Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. 5: 533–576.


  • "Sartre's Theory of Alter Ego." In Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. 9: 181–199.


  • "Choosing Among Projects of Action." In Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. 12: 161–184.


  • "Edmund Husserl's Ideas, Volume II." In Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. 13: 394–413.
  • "Die Phänomenologie und die fundamente der Wissenschaften. (Ideas III by Edmund Husserl: A Review.)" In Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. 13: 506–514.
  • "Common-sense and Scientific Interpretation in Human Action." In Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. 14: 1–38.


  • "Concept and Theory Formation in the Social Sciences." In the Journal of Philosophy. 51: 257-272.


  • "Max Scheler's Epistemology and Ethics: I." In Review of Metaphysics. 11: 304–314.


  • "Max Scheler's Epistemology and Ethics: II." In Review of Metaphysics. 11: 486–501.


  • "Type and Eidos in Husserl's Late Philosophy." In Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. 20: 147–165.


  • Collected Papers I: The Problem of Social Reality. Edited by M.A. Natanson and H.L. van Breda. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.
  • Collected Papers II. Studies in Social Theory. Edited by A. Brodersen. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.


  • Collected Papers III. Studies in Phenomenological Philosophy. Edited by I. Schutz, Aron Gurwitsch. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.


  • The Phenomenology of the Social World. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.


  • Reflections on the Problem of Relevance. Edited by Richard Zaner. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  • On Phenomenology and Social Relations: Selected Writings. Edited by Helmut R. Wagner. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.


  • Das Problem der Relevanz. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.


  • Gesammelte Aufsätze: Band I. Das Problem der Sozialen Wirklichkeit Translated by B. Luckmann and R.H. Grathoff. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.
  • Gesammelte Aufsätze: Band II. Studien zur Soziologischen Theorie. Edited by A. Brodersen. Translated by A. von Baeyer. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.
  • Gesammelte Aufsätze: Band III. Studien zur Phaenomenologischen Philosophie Edited by I. Schutz. Translated by A. von Baeyer. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.


  • The Structures of the Life-World. (Strukturen der Lebenswelt.) By Alfred Schütz and Thomas Luckmann. Translated by Richard M. Zaner and H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.


  • "Fragments on the Phenomenology of Music." In Music Man. 2: 5–72.


  • Zur Theorie sozialen Handelns: e. Briefwechsel Alfred Schütz, Talcott Parsons: Herausgegeben u. eingel. von Walter M. Sprondel. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.


  • The Theory of Social Action: The Correspondence of Alfred Schütz and Talcott Parsons. Edited by Richard Grathoff. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.


  • Life forms and meaning structure. (Lebensformen und Sinnstruktur.) Translated by Helmut R. Wagner. London: Routledge & K. Paul.


  • Alfred Schütz, Aron Gurwitsch: Briefwechsel, 1939-1959. mit einer Einleitung von Ludwig Landgrebe. Herausgegeben von Richard Grathoff. München: W. Fink.


  • Philosophers in Exile: the Correspondence of Alfred Schütz and Aron Gurwitsch, 1939-1959. Edited by Richard Grathoff. Translated by J. Claude Evans. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.


  • Collected Papers IV. Edited by Helmut Wagner, George Psathas, and Fred Kersten. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.


  1. ^ George Walsh, "Introduction", Alfred Schütz, The Phenomenology of the Social World (Illinois 1997) p. xv
  2. ^ Barber, Michael. "Alfred Schutz". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 5 October 2012. 
  3. ^ Allan, Kenneth (February 20, 2014). Explorations in Classical Sociological Theory. Thousand Oaks, CA 91320: Pine Forge Press. p. 314. ISBN 9781412905725. 
  4. ^ Wagner, Helmut R. (1983). Alfred Schutz: An Intellectual Biography. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. p. 6. 
  5. ^ Allan, Kenneth (2005). Explorations in classical sociological theory : seeing the social world. Thousand Oaks: Pine Forge Press. p. 314. ISBN 9781412905725. 
  6. ^ Allan, Kenneth (2010). Explorations in Classical Sociological Theory. Pine Forge Press. p. 314. 
  7. ^ a b Walsh, p. xviii
  8. ^ Allan, Kenneth (2005). Explorations in Classical Sociological Theory. Thousand Oaks, CA 91320: Pine Forge Press. p. 317. ISBN 9781412905725. 
  9. ^ Ritzer, George (2011). Sociological Theory. New York: McGraw-Hill. p. 219. 
  10. ^ Kenneth, Allan (2010). Explorations in Classical Sociological Theory. Pine Forge Press. p. 29. 
  11. ^ Farganis, James (2011). Readings in Social Theory: The Classical Tradition to Post-Modernism. New York: Mc-Graw Hill. p. 258. 
  12. ^ Smith, Joel. "Phenomenology". Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 4 October 2012. 
  13. ^ Orbe, Mark P. (2009). Phenomenology. CA: Thousand Oaks. p. (pp. 750–752). 
  14. ^ a b Farganis, James (2011). Readings In Social Theory: The Classic Tradition to Post-Modernism (6th ed.). New York City: McGraw-Hill. p. 257. ISBN 978-0-07-811155-6. 
  15. ^ Ritzer, George (2011). Sociological Theory. New York: McGraw Hill. p. 219. 
  16. ^ Lester E. Embree, Schützian Social Science (1999) p. 91
  17. ^ a b c Walsh, p. xxvii
  18. ^ Schütz, Phenomenology p. 163
  19. ^ Schütz, Phenomenology p. 177
  20. ^ Walsh, p. xxviii
  21. ^ Schütz, Phenomenology p. 181
  22. ^ Alfred Schütz, The Problem of Social Reality (The Hague 1973) p. 352
  23. ^ Schütz, Social Reality p. 352

Further reading[edit]

  • Michael Barber, Alfred Schutz In: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • Barber, M. (2004). The Participating Citizen: A Biography of Alfred Schütz. New York, State University of New York Press.
  • Jochen Dreher: Alfred Schutz In: George Ritzer, Jeff Stepnisky (Hrsg.): The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Major Social Theorists, Vol. I Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford 2011, ISBN 978-1-4443-3078-6, S. 489-510.
  • Wagner, H. R. (1983). Alfred Schütz: An Intellectual Biography. Chicago and London, The University of Chicago Press.
  • Grathoff, R. Evans, C. (1989)Philosophers in Exile: The Correspondence of Alfred Schutz and Aron Gurwitsch, 1939-1959 Indianapolis, Indiana University Press.

External links[edit]