Austrian, b: 13 April 1899, Vienna, d: 20 May 1959, New York City. Cat: Phenomenological sociologist. Ints: Philosophy of the social science. Educ: University of Vienna. Infls: Bergson and Husserl. Appts: 1920, Secretary, Union of Austrian Banks; from 1929, legal adviser, Reitler and Co. (Viennese international banking house); asked to join in the establishment of The International Phenomenological Society (1940-c. 1950) and to become an editor of the Society’s journal, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (1940–); Visiting Professor at the Graduate Faculty, New School for Social Research, 1943–4, Full Professor, 1952 and Chairman of the Sociology Department; his courses included the methodology of the social sciences, theory of social role, sociology of language, and self and society; it was his professional ‘double-life’—as banker and phenomenologist—which led to his untimely death.
In 1932, after 12 years of research, Schutz published his main work, Der sinnhafte Aufbau der sozialen Welt. He dedicated a copy of the book to Edmund Husserl, who invited Schutz to Freiburg im Breisgau to meet his circle of phenomenologists and brought the book to the attention of his student, Aron Gurwitsch, saying ‘He [Schutz] is a bank-executive by day and a phenomenologist by night!’. In 1935, when Schutz was planning a business trip to Paris, Husserl urged him to meet Gurwitsch. As a result they became lifelong friends and correspondents.
On 13 March 1938, while Schutz was again in Paris on business, Germany occupied Austria. Like Gurwitsch, Schutz was Jewish. He had no choice but to remain in Paris. The invasion of Prague on 15 March 1939 led to Schutz’s decision to leave with his wife and two children for New York on 14 July. For most refugees visas were difficult to obtain, but Schutz’s position was secure due to his banking connections. He was, however, anxious for his friends in Paris, and it was his work in aiding refugees which brought him into contact with The New School for Social Research in New York, and particularly with its Graduate Faculty of Political and Social Sciences—a ‘University in Exile’ for refugee scholars (established in 1933).
Schutz’s main work, Der sinnhafte Aufbau (1932) is a critical analysis of the sociological theory of Max Weber. Schutz agrees with Weber that the subjective meanings of social actions can be understood only by means of rational models or ‘ideal types’, but his aim is to find a systematic, philosophical foundation for Weber’s view. Drawing on Bergson and especially Husserl, Schutz argues that a subject’s intended meaning is constituted in inner-consciousness and is dependent upon the project which constitutes the required action. Understanding of others is, therefore, possible by means of logical constructs—‘ideal types’—fashioned from our own accumulated experience.
Between 1940 and 1959 Schutz published over 30 essays, most of which now appear in his Collected Papers (1962–6). These essays are an enrichment of Der sinnhafte Aufbau and deal with a wide variety of problems: intersubjectivity, signs and symbols, language, typification and knowledge, ‘multiple realities’, social action, methodology, and critical discussions of William James, Max Scheler, Jean-Paul Sartre and, of course, Husserl. In his The problem of transcendental intersubjectivity in Husserl’ (Collected Papers, vol. III), he argues, contrary to Husserl, that even transcendental reflection depends upon intersubjectivity as a fundamental datum of the life world.
Schutz had plans for a massive opus called ‘The World as Taken for Granted: Toward a Phenomenology of the Natural Attitude’. The first part of this, ‘Preliminary Notes on the Problem of Relevance’ (written 1947–51) finally became Reflections on the Problem of Relevance (1970), and the rest, on which Schutz continued to work until his death, was continued by Thomas Luckmann and became Die Strukturen der Lebenswelt (1973). The problem of relevance concerns why some facts of experience become a topic of thought and others not, why some topics are interpreted and why some and not others motivate us to act. Die Strukturen der Lebenswelt concerns: the everyday lifeworld and the natural attitude; the stratifications of the lifeworld; knowledge of the lifeworld (including relevance and typicality) and knowledge and society (concerning the social stock of knowledge). Schutz’s aim in this work was to bring together what was scattered in diverse publications, but his work was not complete: he left us with the unending task of a historical theory of society.
Sources: Richard Grathoff (ed.) (1989) Philosophers in Exile. The Correspondence of Alfred Schutz and Aron Gurwitsch, 1939–1959, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana UP; Helmut Wagner (1983) Alfred Schutz: An Intellectual Biography, Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.
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