Alfred Schütz

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Alfred Schütz (1899–1959) was an Austrian social scientist, whose work bridged sociological and phenomenological traditions to form a social phenomenology.



He was born in Austria, studied law in Vienna, 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 worked on phenomenology, social science methodology and the philosophy of Edmund Husserl, William James and others.


Schutz's principal task was to create a philosophical foundation for the social sciences. He was strongly influenced by Ludwig von Mises, Henri Bergson, William James, and Edmund Husserl. Contrary to common belief, George Herbert Mead was of little importance for Schutz. Schutz was very critical of his behavioristic approach and his inadequate treatment of the problem of social action. Although Schütz was never a student of Husserl, he, together with a colleague, Felix Kaufmann, studied Husserl's work intensively in seeking a basis for interpretive sociology derived from the work of Max Weber. This work and its continuation resulted in his first book, Der sinnhafte Aufbau der sozialen Welt (literally, The meaningful construction of the social world, but published in English as The phenomenology of the social world). This work brought him to the attention of Husserl, with whom he corresponded and whom he visited until Husserl's death in 1938. In fact, he was offered the position of assistant to Husserl at Freiburg University in the early 1930s, but declined.

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.

Schütz is probably 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 three volumes (published by Nijhoff, The Hague).

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