Meaning of Social Theory in the View of Phenomenology Term Paper

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Social Theory in the View of Phenomenology: Alfred Schutz

Who was Alfred Schutz, and why was his work on social theory and phenomenology so important? This is an important question that must be answered here, and will be answered, but there are other issues that must be examined as well. It is important to have an understanding of social theory and an understanding of phenomenology before Schutz is discussed too thoroughly, or what kind of contribution he made will not be as evident. Since he is no longer living, what he has done can only be discussed in the context of the past, up until the year he died, which was 1959. However, many of the works that bear his name and involve him very strongly were published after that time. This would indicate that those that published these works found that they were still very relevant.

This is similar to the way that Aristotle and others are still very relevant -- they might have lived a long time ago, but the work that they did and the information that they provided was of such quality that it has survived all of these long years. The work of Schutz appears to have a similar feel to it and it looks as though the work that Schutz had done in the past will continue to be relevant well into the future. This is important for social theory and phenomenology, since they have not changed that much since Schutz's time.

Schutz was certainly not the first individual to study social theory and phenomenology to any great degree, and also not the first individual to make his ideas known in this way. Instead, he studied the works of many other individuals in order to determine whether there were problems with what these individuals stated and whether there were changes that should be made. This may not seem that significant to some individuals because many people can study other's work and criticize it, but this does not mean that they are correct in their criticisms or their assumptions.

However, where Schutz is concerned, much of the work that he did not only agreed with but criticized the works of others. In other words, Schutz would find agreement with much of what an individuals stated in his philosophical work but would also find criticism with certain ways that individuals looked at various issues or whether the way that they felt about a particular issue was either too broad or two narrow to be realistic or helpful. This was is part of what made his work into both social theory and phenomenology so important. The Discussed here will be both social theory and phenomenology, as well as the life of Alfred Schutz. There is no need to delve deeply into Schutz's background, as some of what happened in his life is not really relevant to the subject at hand. However, it is important to understand who he was to some extent and why the work that he did was so significant in his life. Without knowing about his life and his background, this would not be easy to do. First, though, an understanding of social theory and phenomenology is needed, and so those will be looked at next.

Social Theory

Social theory is designed to analyze the various ways of organization that make up social life and also the ways that this same social life can be transformed (What, 2005). The everyday assumptions that generally shape individuals' lives are questioned by social theory and it utilizes a systematic manner to reflect on many specific issues such as the nature that identity has, how power is divided, and various forms of rationality and agency, as well as the experiences of individuals as either pre-modern, modern, or sometimes postmodern subjects of interest (What, 2005).

Social theory is also designed to take a critical assessment of how adequate many of the descriptions are, and analyze many of the critiques that are made in literature that deals with social science (What, 2005). It also works at making a response to many of the inadequacies that are seen in the social science literature, at least where the various levels of theory are concerned. Because it does these things, it helps to serve as part of the critical inquiry which is designed to be interdisciplinary and which also looks at various human and social sciences, as these are both important and significant (What, 2005).

Because social theory has such an interdisciplinary approach it helps to provide some context where substantive and theoretical issues are raised in various disciplines (What, 2005). These disciplines can include philosophy, history, sociology, political science, women's studies, cultural studies, and anthropology (What, 2005). Social theory helps to explore these further and reflect upon them critically. This helps to make a very appropriate choice for many students that have a strong critical interest in human or social science on any level (What, 2005).

Many programs that deal with social theory allow students to take individual subjects or to major in social theory. Many programs that deal with this issue also have four major concerns or themes that they see as being noteworthy in contemporary social theory (What, 2005). These are: critical theories, science and technologies; psychoanalysis, social theory and identities; social theory and the analysis of social and political relations; and contemporary critical theories (What, 2005).

Working with social theory allows an individual to explore various themes in courses that are taken but social theory is not just about coursework. It had to come from somewhere and many individuals that work with social theory or did work with social theory in the past spent a lot of time dealing with phenomenology as well (What, 2005). This is one of the main reasons that phenomenology will be discussed here briefly before the discussion turns to Alfred Schutz and his contributions.


Phenomenology is a philosophical movement that looks at a different way to study human beings and address the uniqueness of every human being's life (McPhail, 1995). The movement is sincere in its efforts to study human consciousness and understand humanity from the perspective of the differences between individuals (McPhail, 1995).

Many people also see phenomenology as being a specific branch of philosophy. The general aim of it is to look at a study of human phenomena without considering objective reality, causes, or appearances (Embree, 1997). In other words, it is important to study how human phenomena are actually experienced in cognitive and perceptual acts, in consciousness, and how these phenomena may be either aesthetically appreciated or valued (Embree, 1997). It also seeks to understand how various persons can construct meaning and one of the key concepts is that of intersubjectivity (Embree, 1997).

All individuals have various experiences of the world that surrounds them, and the various thoughts that these people have about the world are based on these experiences. This is considered to be intersubjective because individuals experience the world not only through others but with others as well (Embree, 1997). Whatever the meaning that is created by an individual, it has its roots in the various human actions and the totality of various cultural and social objects that is grounded within human activity (Embree, 1997).

Phenomenologists conduct research in ways that share most of the following positive and negative features, and these figures are reproduced in their entirety from Wilson (2002).

1. Phenomenologists tend to oppose the acceptance of unobservable matters and grand systems erected in speculative thinking (Wilson, 2002);

2. Phenomenologists tend to oppose naturalism (also called objectivism and positivism), which is the worldview growing from modern natural science and technology that has been spreading from Northern Europe since the Renaissance (Wilson, 2002);

3. Positively speaking, phenomenologists tend to justify cognition (and some also evaluation and action) with reference to what Edmund Husserl called Evidenz, which is awareness of a matter itself as disclosed in the most clear, distinct, and adequate way for something of its kind (Wilson, 2002);

4. Phenomenologists tend to believe that not only objects in the natural and cultural worlds, but also ideal objects, such as numbers, and even conscious life itself can be made evident and thus known (Wilson, 2002);

5. Phenomenologists tend to hold that inquiry ought to focus upon what might be called "encountering" as it is directed at objects and, correlatively, upon "objects as they are encountered" (this terminology is not widely shared, but the emphasis on a dual problematics and the reflective approach it requires is) (Wilson, 2002);

6. Phenomenologists tend to recognize the role of description in universal, a priori, or "eidetic" terms as prior to explanation by means of causes, purposes, or grounds; and (Wilson, 2002)

7. Phenomenologists tend to debate whether or not what Husserl calls the transcendental phenomenological epoch and reduction is useful or even possible (Wilson, 2002).

Many people have difficulty with the idea of phenomenology and they do not understand what it means. They often have trouble pronouncing and it…

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