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Summary Article: Schutz, Alfred (1899-1959)
from Cambridge Dictionary of Sociology

Born in Austria, Schutz emigrated to the United States in 1939. He was instrumental in the development of phenomenological sociology, and his academic work was devoted to improving the sociological understanding of the lifeworld. He used the resources of the phenomenology of the German philosopher Edmund Husserl (1895-1938) to provide a better understanding of the philosophical underpinnings of the social sciences. He was critical of Max Weber's theory of social action and interpretation, and he sought to understand how a theory of action could become scientific. His central argument was that sociology must understand how social actors use typification to organize their commonsense knowledge of the lifeworld and to grasp the basic differences between everyday and scientific knowledge. This phenomenological research involves the study of the relevance of different forms of knowledge to social action.

His principal publications were posthumously collected in four volumes as Collected Papers (1971). These were The Problem of Social Reality (1962, vol. I), Studies in Social Theory (1964, vol. II), Studies in the Phenomenology of Philosophy (1966, vol. III), and Collected Papers (1996, vol. IV). His other publications include The Structures of the Life World (1973 and 1989, 2 vols.) and Reflections on the Problem of Relevance (1970).

Schutz served at the New School for Social Research in New York from 1944 to 1951 as Visiting Professor, and from 1952 as Professor until his death in 1959. Despite his involvement in the New School, Schutz was marginal to professional sociology in the United States, partly because his commitment to European phenomenology was increasingly incompatible with the growth of empiricism.

He has had a profound influence on the theory of action, for example in his debate with Talcott Parsons in The Theory of Social Action: The Correspondence of Alfred Schutz and Talcott Parsons (1978) and Philosophers in Exile: The Correspondence of Alfred Schutz and Aron Gurwitsch 1939-1959 (1989). He was also influential in the development of the sociology of knowledge in the work of Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann.

BRYAN S. TURNER

© Cambridge University Press 2006

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