Schutz Alfred

Schutz Alfred

(1899-1959) Austrian-born sociologist and philosopher, a major architect of SOCIAL PHENOMENOLOGY, who, after his move to New York in 1935, worked as a banker.

Schutz's main work – e.g. The Phenomenology of the Social World (1967, German 1932) -involved the application of Edmund HUSSERLS PHENOMENOLOGY to social phenomena, especially the phenomena of everyday life. This also involved Schutz in a critique of WEBER. According to Schutz, Weber ‘does not ask how an actor's meaning is constituted or … try to identify the unique and fundamental relations existing between the self and the other’.

The basic thesis of Schutz's social phenomenology is that sociology must work to uncover the concepts or TYPIFICATIONS by which actors, in intersubjective ways, organize their everyday actions and construct ‘common-sense knowledge’. As he saw it, everyday knowledge, unlike scientific knowledge, cannot be studied by abstract methods. Rather, the careful inspection of everyday social life reveals that social actors operate with ‘taken-for-granted assumptions’ and 'stock knowledge’ and achieve a ‘reciprocity of perspective’, a ‘natural attitude’ which must be seen as paramount’ in social knowledge. Schutz's conception is that social order arises from the general presumption of a common world, but without this presumption being in any way a matter of normative consensus of the kind assumed by functionalism. (See also PRACTICAL KNOWLEDGE, LIFE-WORLD).

The paradox arising from Schutz's social phenomenology is that although a generalized account of the actor's constitution of social life is reached, this account suggests that there may be strict limits on the extent to which the macroscopic generalizations about social structures and social change which conventional sociologies have sought can ever by achieved. Schutz's ideas have been taken up by ETHNOMETHODOLOGY. The issue arising is whether scientific and everyday common-sense knowledge are as sharply differentiated as Schutz and the ethnomethodologists suggest, and whether general social structural accounts may still be possible, despite the undoubted elements of INDEXICALITY and REFLEXIVITY of everyday social accounts.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
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