Human Studies

, Volume 35, Issue 2, pp 279–304

Phenomenological Life-World Analysis and Ethnomethodology’s Program



This paper discusses ethnomethodology’s program in relation to the phenomenological life-world analysis of Alfred Schutz. A recent publication of Garfinkel’s early writings sheds new light on how he made use of phenomenological reflections in order to create a new sociological approach. Garfinkel used Schutz’s life-world analysis as a source of inspiration, called for ‘misreading’ in the sense of an alternate reading and developed a new, empirical approach to the analysis of social order which he called ‘ethnomethodology’. Ethnomethodologists usually acknowledge the historical importance of Schutz but emphasize that Garfinkel succeeded to overcome the limitations of phenomenological analyses and moved beyond. This view has spread above all in the Anglosaxon countries. In German sociology, Schutz’s life-world analysis still has a much stronger standing than ethnomethodology and is interpreted as a systematic whole. Following Luckmann, it is discussed as a protosociological foundation of the methodology of social sciences or, following Srubar, as a philosophical anthropology with two poles: a subjective and a social, pragmatic pole. Both versions claim to analyze the meaningful constitution of the social world, to serve as a foundation of sociological methodology and to provide guidelines for an ‘adequate’ sociology. While Garfinkel used phenomenological concepts for sociological analysis, Luckmann clearly distinguishes the two: you either do phenomenology (protosociology) or you do sociology (a theoretically guided, empirical sociology of knowledge). This paper describes the present-day debate in German sociology and compares ethnomethodology’s program with these interpretations of Schutz’s life-world analysis.


Life-world analysis Phenomenology Phenomenological sociology Ethnomethodology Protosociology Philosophical anthropology 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of SociologyUniversity of St. GallenSt. GallenSwitzerland

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