In recent decades, the historical social sciences have moved away from deterministic perspectives and increasingly embraced the interpretive analysis of historical process and social and political change. This shift has enriched the field but also led to a deadlock regarding the meaning and status of subjective knowledge. Cultural interpretivists struggle to incorporate subjective experience and the body into their understanding of social reality. In the early twentieth century, philosopher Alfred Schutz grappled with this very issue. Drawing on Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology and Max Weber’s historical sociology, Schutz pioneered the interpretive analysis of social life from an embodied perspective. However, the recent interpretivist turn, influenced by linguistic philosophies, discourse theory, and poststructuralism, has overlooked the insights of Schutz and other phenomenologists. This book revisits Schutz’s phenomenology and social theory, positioning them against contemporary problems in social theory and interpretive social science research. The book extends Schutz’s key concepts of relevance, symbol relations, theory of language, and lifeworld meaning structures. It outlines Schutz’s critical approach to the social distribution of knowledge and develops his nascent sociology and political economy of knowledge. This book will appeal to readers with interests in social theory, phenomenology, and the methods of interpretive social science, including historical sociology, cultural sociology, science and technology studies, political economy, and international relations.

chapter 1|17 pages


chapter 2|30 pages

The vanishing mediator

The phenomenological moment in American social science

chapter 3|30 pages

Relevance analysis

Cognition and knowledge in social phenomenology

chapter 4|36 pages

Thematic, interpretive, and motivational relevances

Belief, meaning, and action in the social world

chapter 5|37 pages

Symbol relations and social reality

Culture and structure in the social world

chapter 6|39 pages

From phenomenology to the sociology and political economy of knowledge

Culture, power, and the social distribution of knowledge

chapter 7|7 pages


Phenomenology, social theory, and interpretive social science