Alfred Schütz

Alfred Schutz (/ʃʊts/; born Alfred Schütz, German: [ʃʏts]; 1899–1959) was an Austrian philosopher and social phenomenologist whose work bridged sociological and phenomenological traditions. Schutz is gradually being recognized as one of the twentieth century's leading philosophers of social science.[1] He related Edmund Husserl's work to the social sciences, and influenced Max Weber's legacy of philosophical foundations for sociology and economics through Schutz's major work, Phenomenology of the Social World.[2]

Alfred Schütz
Born(1899-04-13)April 13, 1899
DiedMay 20, 1959(1959-05-20) (aged 60)
  • Austrian
  • American
Ilse Heim (m. 1926)
Academic background
Alma materUniversity of Vienna
Doctoral advisorHans Kelsen
Academic work
School or traditionPhenomenology
InstitutionsThe New School
Doctoral studentsMaurice Natanson
Notable ideasSocial phenomenology


Early life and background

Schutz was born on 13 April 1899 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 equivalent rank of second lieutenant. His army regiment was dispatched to fight in a series of heavy battles on the Italian front (WWI).

Education and later life

In 1918, Schutz enrolled at the University of Vienna, where he earned his law degree.[3] During his time at the University of Vienna he also enrolled at the Viennese Academy of International Trade from 1919 to 1920 and adopted a concentration in international law. During his time at the University of Vienna, Schutz went to lectures given by Max Weber, and felt that Weber had left the problem of meaning unanswered.[4] As noted by Wagner (1983), Schutz's fascination with the problem of meaning was a result of his experience in combat, combined with returning to starving and economically decimated Vienna.[5]

In 1926 Schutz married Ilse Heim, after developing a well-established and prominent career in international banking. He became the chief financial officer for Reitler and Company, the Vienna banking firm. He was once described by Edmund Husserl as “a banker by day and a philosopher by night.” [2] In 1933 the threat of Hitler's rise in Germany caused Schutz and other Viennese intellectuals to flee Austria in order to seek asylum in allied countries. Consequently, Schutz and his family relocated to Paris in 1938 in political exile. Schutz worked as an international lawyer for Reitler and Company, and moved to the United States in 1939, where he became a faculty member of The New School. He taught sociology and philosophy as well as serving as chair of the Philosophy department. Schutz is unique as a scholar of the social sciences in that he pursued a career in law for most of his life, while teaching part-time at the New School for Social Research in New York. Moreover, he produced key papers in phenomenological sociology that fill four volumes (published by Nijhoff, The Hague), while working full-time at the bank. Schutz received a substantial amount of assistance from his wife, Ilse, who transcribed his working notes and letters from his taped dictations.[6]

Schutz died on 20 May 1959 in New York City at the age of 60.[7]

Intellectual life

While Schutz 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 paralleled George Herbert Mead’s analysis of the meanings within social interactions, Schutz was highly critical of Mead’s behavioristic approach.[8] Although Schutz 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, "the meaningful structure of the social world") which was published in English as The Phenomenology of the Social World. Schutz took up the generic emphasis of phenomenology, arguing that everyday life – other than philosophical or scientific theories – is most important for analysis.[9] In this work, Schutz both applauded and criticized Weber's thinking on related issues. Schutz very much admired Weber’s teachings about the “ideal type,” which does not allow for personal interests or values in the context of social theory. This state is referred to as the value-free state. This publication brought him to the attention of Husserl, whom he visited frequently and corresponded with until Husserl's death in 1938. Even so, when Husserl asked Schutz to be his assistant, he was unable to accept the offer[8] at Freiburg University for personal reasons.

Schutz'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 "lifeworld". Within this, people create social reality under the constraints of preexisting social and cultural factors and structures. 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".[10]

Schutz is also known for his belief that humans attempt to typify everything — to categorize people and things to better understand them within the context of society. He believed that the various typifications we use inform how we understand and interact with people and objects in the social world.


Schutz'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 Schutz's work. Luckmann, a student of Schutz's (along with Peter L. Berger), ultimately finished Schutz's work on the structures of the Lifeworld after Schutz died by filling out his unfinished notes. Berger and Luckmann went on to use Schutz's work to further understand human culture and reality, through the development of a new form of the sociology of knowledge.[11] As noted by Farganis (2011), Peter Berger is arguably the best-known living sociologist influenced by Schutz, owing his creation of social construction theory which explains how the processes of externalization, objectification, and internalization contribute to the social construction of reality.[12]


Phenomenology originated with Edmund Husserl. Schutz 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".[13] 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.[14]

Social phenomenology

Social phenomenology is the combination of the social construction of reality and ethnomethodology. It was concerned with how people use ordinary, everyday interactions to produce a feeling of reality and intersubjectivity. Most of Schutz's work concerned the methods used for the construction of reality through everyday experiences.[15]

As noted by Farganis (2011) phenomenological sociology is characterized as particularly subjective in nature because its emphasis of understanding reality through the perspective of the acting subject rather than through the lens of the scientific observer.[16] Rather than attempting to uncover and document the social structures which influence our social world Schutz and other sociological phenomenologists seek not only to identify the content of our consciousness related to our conception of the social reality of everyday life but also, how this reality comes to assume the form it is.[16] In essence, Schutz and social phenomenologists are principally concerned with the happenings of everyday life or what Schutz refers to as the ‘lifeworld’. As noted by Ritzer (2011) the lifeworld “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."[17] 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] Schutz 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

Schutz's division of Husserl's Lebenswelt (the mundane lifeworld) into four distinct sub-worlds is perhaps his most influential theoretical contribution. The theory of the lifeworld is that social experience creates a world that is separated between the social reality that has been directly experienced and social reality that is on the horizon of direct experience.[18] The former consisted of the Umwelt of what Schutz termed consociates or fellow-men – of the man who "shares with me a community of space and a community of time".[19] The Concept of umwelt (life-world): the environment is defined through agent’s perception and action.

In contrast, those who Schutz did not deem his fellow-men, he put them in three classes: the world of contemporaries (Mitwelt), the world of predecessors (Vorwelt). and the world of successors (Folgewelt).[18] The last two represent the past and the future, whereas one's contemporaries share a community of time, if not space, and are different from the predecessors and successors because it is possible for them to become fellow-men or consociates.[18]

Schutz was interested in documenting the transition from direct to indirect experience and the series of experiences in between.[20] He also wanted to map the progressive anonymisation of the contemporaries (Mitwelt), which was a measurement of increasing anonymity of "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".[21] Schutz argued that the more one goes into the contemporary world, the more anonymous the contemporary inhabitants become, with the most anonymous being artifacts of any kind that hold meaning, context, and suggest there are unknown people.[22]

In his later writings, Schutz explored how everyday social experiences that pertain to these dimensions are most often intertwined in varying degrees of anonymity.[23] 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'".[24]

Selected bibliography

1932: Der sinnhafte Aufbau der sozialen Welt: eine Einleitung in die verstehende Soziologie. Wien: J. Springer.

1941: "William James' Concept of the Stream of Consciousness Phenomenologically Interpreted." In Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. 1: 442–451.

1942: "Scheler's Theory of Intersubjectivity & the General Thesis of the Alter Ego." In Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. 2: 323–347.

1944: "The Stranger." In "American Journal of Sociology". 49 (6): 499-507.

1945: "On Multiple Realities." In Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. 5: 533–576.

1948: "Sartre's Theory of Alter Ego." In Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. 9: 181–199.

1951: "Choosing Among Projects of Action." In Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. 12: 161–184.

1953: "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.

1954: "Concept and Theory Formation in the Social Sciences." In the Journal of Philosophy. 51: 257-272.

1957:"Max Scheler's Epistemology and Ethics: I." In Review of Metaphysics. 11: 304–314.

1958: "Max Scheler's Epistemology and Ethics: II." In Review of Metaphysics. 11: 486–501.

1959: "Type and Eidos in Husserl's Late Philosophy." In Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. 20: 147–165.

1962–66: 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.

1967: The Phenomenology of the Social World. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.

1970: 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.

1971: Das Problem der Relevanz. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

1972: 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 Phänomenologischen Philosophie Edited by I. Schutz. Translated by A. von Baeyer. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.

1973:The Structures of the Life-World. (Strukturen der Lebenswelt.) By Alfred Schutz and Thomas Luckmann. Translated by Richard M. Zaner and H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.

1976: "Fragments on the Phenomenology of Music." In Music Man. 2: 5–72.

1977: Zur Theorie sozialen Handelns: e. Briefwechsel Alfred Schutz, Talcott Parsons: Herausgegeben u. eingel. von Walter M. Sprondel. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

1978: The Theory of Social Action: The Correspondence of Alfred Schutz and Talcott Parsons. Edited by Richard Grathoff. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

1982: Life forms and meaning structure. (Lebensformen und Sinnstruktur.) Translated by Helmut R. Wagner. London: Routledge & K. Paul.

1985: Alfred Schutz, Aron Gurwitsch: Briefwechsel, 1939-1959. mit einer Einleitung von Ludwig Landgrebe. Herausgegeben von Richard Grathoff. München: W. Fink.

1989: Philosophers in Exile: the Correspondence of Alfred Schutz and Aron Gurwitsch, 1939-1959. Edited by Richard Grathoff. Translated by J. Claude Evans. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

1996: 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. Barber, Michael. The Participating Citizen: A Biography of Alfred Schutz.
  4. Allan, Kenneth. Explorations in Classical Sociological Theory. p. 314.
  5. Wagner, Helmut R. (1983). Alfred Schutz: An Intellectual Biography. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. p. 6.
  6. Allan, Kenneth (2005). Explorations in classical sociological theory : seeing the social world. Thousand Oaks: Pine Forge Press. p. 314. ISBN 9781412905725.
  7. Allan, Kenneth (2010). Explorations in Classical Sociological Theory. Pine Forge Press. p. 314.
  8. Walsh, p. xviii
  9. Allan, Kenneth (2005). Explorations in Classical Sociological Theory. Thousand Oaks, CA 91320: Pine Forge Press. p. 317. ISBN 9781412905725.
  10. Ritzer, George (2011). Sociological Theory. New York: McGraw-Hill. p. 219.
  11. Kenneth, Allan (2010). Explorations in Classical Sociological Theory. Pine Forge Press. p. 29.
  12. Farganis, James (2011). Readings in Social Theory: The Classical Tradition to Post-Modernism. New York: Mc-Graw Hill. p. 258.
  13. Smith, Joel. "Phenomenology". Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 4 October 2012.
  14. Orbe, Mark P. (2009). Phenomenology. CA: Thousand Oaks. p. (pp. 750–752).
  15. Scott, John. 50 Key Sociologists: The Formative Theorists.
  16. 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.
  17. Ritzer, George (2011). Sociological Theory. New York: McGraw Hill. p. 219.
  18. Walsh, p. xxvii
  19. Schütz, Phenomenology p. 163
  20. Schütz, Phenomenology p. 177
  21. Walsh, p. xxviii
  22. Schütz, Phenomenology p. 181
  23. Alfred Schütz, The Problem of Social Reality (The Hague 1973) p. 352
  24. Schütz, Social Reality p. 352

Further reading

  • Michael Barber, Alfred Schutz In: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • Barber, M. (2004). The Participating Citizen: A Biography of Alfred Schutz. New York, State University of New York Press.
  • Embree, Lester. (2000). “Schutz, Alfred (1899-1959), Philosopher and Social Scientist.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  • 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 Schutz: 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.
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