Human Studies

, Volume 39, Issue 4, pp 493–512 | Cite as

Type and Spontaneity: Beyond Alfred Schutz’s Theory of the Social World

Theoretical / Philosophical Paper


Alfred Schutz’s theory of the social world, often neglected in philosophy, has the potential to capture the interplay of identity and difference which shapes our action, interaction, and experience in everyday life. Compared to still dominant identity-based models such as that of Jürgen Habermas, who assumes a coordination of meaning built on the idealisation of stable rules (primarily those of language), Schutz’s theory is an important step forward. However, his central notion of a “type” runs into a difficulty which requires constructive criticism. Against the background of Schutz’s theory of meaning inspired by Bergson and Husserl, his idea of types “taken for granted until further notice” is shown to express a primacy of identity which, in the final analysis, leads into the implausible scenario of ‘ubiquitous tunnel vision’. This makes it necessary to go beyond Schutz and assume an inherently motivated tendency towards difference in meaning termed ‘spontaneity’. Where spontaneity and the opposed tendency towards identity of meaning work together in the application of types, they enable embodied subjects to interact with the world and with each other in the routine yet flexible and sometimes innovative ways which we all know.


Phenomenology Meaning Relevance Novelty Rationality Theory of action 



Part of the research for this article was funded by a Travel Grant from the Fritz Thyssen Foundation for an extended stay at Waseda University. For insightful comments and criticism related to earlier versions of the paper, I am especially grateful to two anonymous reviewers as well as to Hisashi Nasu, Nobuo Kazashi, Gunter Gebauer, Hubert Knoblauch, Michael Barber, Jochen Dreher, and Holger Straßheim.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate School of Letters, Arts and SciencesWaseda UniversityTokyoJapan
  2. 2.Kanagawa-kuJapan

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