Alfred Schütz

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Alfred Schütz (1899–1959) was a sociologist born in Austria. He studied at the University of Vienna and derived a lot of his work on phenomenological sociology on Max Weber and Edmund Husserl, both of whom were major influences to his work. He was not like most academics, however, in that he did not necessarily devote his entire life to his studies and education. Rather, he desired a banking career and developed his sociological work, Phenomenology of the Social World, on the side. He would later release and distribute it more after giving up on his banking career to completely move towards teaching his studies, thereafter meeting and being influenced by George Herbert Mead. Even though he was working on further development on his ideas in 1959, his death caused his student, Thomas Luckmann, to finish the job and release The Structures of the Life World.[1]


Phenomenology is the study of the general assumptions and meanings attributed to the world around people. The idea that every object independent of a consciousness stems from the general assumption that we collectively use definitions to understand the world around us, and because these definitions are borne from the general assumptions we make about our perception, it is the process of perception and interpretation that phenomenology tends to study.

The world of existing assumptions[edit]

As previously mentioned, the study of phenomenology scrutinizes and analyzes the subjective perceptions of each person and how they individually define the world around them, and the totality of what these developed meanings and interpretations mean for them. As a result of the general assumptions that people make of the world around them, it has tendencies to create processes of behaviors and habits that can be analyzed and studied with the general purpose of developing situational awareness. The macro part of this study lies in the analysis of the outward world and the differences of meanings that are attributed to the various objects within. For instance, a stop sign on the side of the road generally has what seems like an obvious inference, however someone completely foreign to our society and language would rely on context clues such as cars stopping next to it to infer the meaning that is attributed to the stop sign in the first place by those residing within. It is this part of the study that is collective.

Categorization of assumptions[edit]

The other side of phenomenology is the general study of individual understandings and interpretations of meanings to navigate the social and physical world around them. Within a specific perspective, each individual will categorize the world around them in a slightly different way, despite there being various trends among certain ideas that seem consistently applied. Regardless, there are nevertheless a set of necessary categorizations, or bracketing, of assumptions that particular individual makes about the world around them. This part of the study stems from the idea that it is impossible for an individual to analyze the world as completely and absolutely objective, and instead can only understand it through their limited and subjective interpretation. In order to make sense of the world around us, therefore, people must bracket their assumptions in a rough pre- and post-determined set of rules and apparent assumptions that they make to navigate.[2]


In contrast to certain schools of thought of sociology, Schütz suggests that we instead operate on a form of Intersubjectivity. Intersubjectivity refers to the rejection of defining an objective world completely separate from definition itself, and rather addresses the fact that meaning itself is derived from subjective consciousness capable of understanding the world. In essence, it refers to the collective understanding of the world around us, whether it be the words or the ideas surrounding said objects.

While one may claim that this necessarily refers to an abstract set of rules that overarch all aspects of society, akin to something Emile Durkheim would have said. This definition of the world around is more flexible, and refers to the general variability that comes with mass subjective interpretation and allotted change. That is to say, the outward world is not necessary predefined for us, and that the definition of the world around us actually centers around individual acceptance and understanding within terms they understand. Because each person fundamentally experiences their own specific 'reality', they all have a slightly different understanding of the world around them and instead rely on a common denominator of understanding in order to communicate the world around them. In essence, perspective is baked in nuance that is only limited by the capability to communicate.

Influences from Weber[edit]

One of the major themes of phenomenology is the idea that stemmed from Weber, of "Verstehen", German for the English word 'understanding'. This idea rests in the fundamental decision to objectively determine and sufficiently understand a thought or perspective, withholding judgment until after scientific analysis has occurred. However, a main criticism from Schütz is that Weber fails to differentiate the meanings attributed to an action and the meaning of the perpetrator of the action itself. Schütz, therefore, expands on this criticism by explaining that meanings and interpretations of actions fundamentally are derived not just from the actions themselves, but also from the implicit biases and preconceived notions of both parties involved. Without taking this necessary detail into account, one cannot understand the action taking place in isolation.

Social rules of action[edit]

One recurring theme through Schütz's work is that people do not just interpret information willy-nilly. They actually employ complex structures at which they hold specific and important (to-them) meanings and memories that they use to make evaluations about actions for today, and in terms of the future. Thus, Schütz makes the differentiation between actions that are interpreted with purpose, and are purposed to be further interpreted. For instance, the interpretation of an action today may differ over time, and depending on that interpretation can influence one do perform different actions (like changing the definition of something you did that you later learn is racist or misogynist, for example.)

Thus, Schütz lays down the specific subsets of knowledge that people use to navigate social scenarios around them.

Stocks of knowledge[edit]

'Stocks of knowledge' refer to the base understandings and interpretations that are so deep-rooted in ones consciousness that they have trouble even acknowledging its existence. Something as self-apparent as the sun going up and down every day, or the color red having the label 'red', are so fundamentally ingrained in a person that to ask the question of why it is so would send them deep into thought. Overall, it refers to the set of rules, institutions, and systems that we understand and are able to concretely activate for further action. It is only out of a base amount of understanding of the world around them and how it works that one is able to continue to imagine possible changes or alternative action: all predetermined on an understanding of what already is.


Typification refers to the general expectation of what one does, defined by the situation around them and the stock of knowledge that they have. Basically, they expect, to a certain degree of certainty, that an event or interaction will occur at a base level of predictability. In essence, one "acts out" an interaction based on their understanding of it, whether it be a doctor's visit (responding to the question, "how do you feel today" with a specific answer instead of an answer in passing) or holding the door for a person (reflecting an understanding of politeness or etiquette for other people, which notably not everyone necessarily has the same ideas of). The point of understanding this is that we aren't necessarily scripted to a universal tee, but that there are general assumptions and expectations for certain social interactions. It would necessitate a drastic change from what is expected, in contrast to a small one, to significantly throw someone off what their definition was.

However, it's generally true that social interactions follow a sort of 'set' amount of logistics designed for making one's way around that particular interaction. It need not be exactly like ones previously understood, but simply similar enough to the "type" that is predetermined to be true that it is acceptable in fashion.[3]