Phenomenological Life-World Analysis and Ethnomethodology’s Program

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    For more information cf. Psathas (2004) and Pfadenhauer (2010).

  2. 2.

    As the personality system belongs to the environment of the social system in Parsons’ (1966) general action system.

  3. 3.

    Personal communication (Brugger pursued this research at our institute).

  4. 4.

    For a comparison of Schutz and Goffman see Eberle (1991).

  5. 5.

    For recent versions of a phenomenological sociology, see Bird (2009) or Nasu (2012).

  6. 6.

    I am, of course, aware that many ethnomethodologists would prefer a Wittgensteinian framework to a phenomenological one, beginning with Jeff Coulter (1979) and ending with all those who presently advocate the “practice turn” (cf. Woermann 2011). For an ethnomethodological view of epistemology cf. Sharrock and Anderson (1989).

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Eberle, T.S. Phenomenological Life-World Analysis and Ethnomethodology’s Program. Hum Stud 35, 279–304 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10746-012-9219-z

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Keywords

  • Life-world analysis
  • Phenomenology
  • Phenomenological sociology
  • Ethnomethodology
  • Protosociology
  • Philosophical anthropology