The Phenomenological Life-World Analysis and the Methodology of the Social Sciences

Abstract

This Alfred Schutz Memorial Lecture discusses the relationship between the phenomenological life-world analysis and the methodology of the social sciences, which was the central motive of Schutz’s work. I have set two major goals in this lecture. The first is to scrutinize the postulate of adequacy, as this postulate is the most crucial of Schutz’s methodological postulates. Max Weber devised the postulate ‘adequacy of meaning’ in analogy to the postulate of ‘causal adequacy’ (a concept used in jurisprudence) and regarded both as complementary and, in the context of sociological analysis, critical. Schutz extracted the two postulates from the Neokantian epistemology, dismissed the concept of causality, and reduced Weber’s two postulates of adequacy into one, namely, the adequacy of meaning. I discuss the benefits and shortcomings of this reduction. A major problem, in my view, is that Schutz’s reformulation lost the empirical concern that was inherent in Weber’s ‘causal adequacy’. As a result, the models of economics (which shaped Schutz’s conception of social science) are considered to be adequate if they are ‘understandable’ to an everyday actor, even when they are based on the most unrealistic assumptions. To recapture Weber’s empirical orientation I recommend a more restrictive interpretation of the postulate of adequacy that links it to qualitative research and unfolds the critical potential of Schutz’s phenomenological life-world analysis. My second goal is to report on some current developments in German sociology in which a number of approaches explicitly refer to Schutz’s analysis of the life-world and attempt to pursue ‘adequate’ empirical research. This lecture focuses on three approaches: ethnophenomenology, life-world analytic ethnography, and social scientific hermeneutics.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In the quoted English edition it says “sciences in the life-world” but this is a mistake. In Schutz’s German notebooks it is clearly written “sciences of the life-world”, which was translated correctly in the appendix of the second volume of the Structures (Schutz and Luckmann 1989: chapter 6, pp. 177).

  2. 2.

    This excerpt follows the translation by G. Roth and C. Wittich (Weber [1922] 1978), except for the first phrase (until “insofar as”), where the translation by W. Heydebrand (in Weber 1994) was chosen as it seems to be closer to the original meaning. (The first chapter of Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft was also published as a separate article in the Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Wissenschaftslehre and was thus later translated twice.)

  3. 3.

    In the United States, the concept of phenomenological sociology had quite a different career and was prominently forwarded by Psathas (1973, 1989), among others.

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Correspondence to Thomas S. Eberle.

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Eberle, T.S. The Phenomenological Life-World Analysis and the Methodology of the Social Sciences. Hum Stud 33, 123–139 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10746-010-9146-9

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Keywords

  • Alfred Schutz
  • Phenomenology
  • Life-world analysis
  • Methodology
  • Adequacy
  • Qualitative research
  • Ethnophenomenology
  • Social science