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Phenomenology in Sociology
1. The Origins and Scope of Phenomenological
Phenomenological sociology is the prescientiﬁc study
of social life and the process by which humans interpret, experience, and understand their individual and collective realities. The work of the social philosopher
and sociologist Alfred Schutz (1899–1959) provides
the most important foundation for phenomenological
sociology. Framed in the general atmosphere of the
debate between scientiﬁc and antiscientiﬁc movements
that arose in the late nineteenth century, phenomenology places the social sciences in the context of everyday life (Thomason 1982). Strongly inﬂuenced
by Henri Bergson, Edmond Husserl and William
James, Schutz argues that a prescientiﬁc under$
standing of everyday life provides the only means
by which a science of society is possible. ‘The sciences
that would interpret and explain human action
must begin with a description of the foundational
structures of what is prescientiﬁc, the reality which
seems self-evident to men remaining within the natural attitude. This reality is the everyday life-world’ (Schutz and Luckmann 1973, p. 3).
Just as the natural scientist must ﬁrst understand the
composition and interactions of subatomic particles in
order to understand the nature of chemical reactions,
the sociologist, Schutz argues, must understand the
common-sense world. Unlike the subatomic world,
however, the world of everyday life is permeated with
the understandings given by those who constitute it.
The task of the phenomenological sociologist...
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