The Review of Austrian Economics, 14:2/3, 219–231, 2001.
2001 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Manufactured in The Netherlands.
From Sch ¨utz to Goffman: The Search
for Social Order
JONATHON E. MOTE
Department of Sociology, McNeil Bldg, 3718 Locust Walk, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104
Abstract. The revival of the ideas of Alfred Sch¨utz among Austrian economists is examined. In particular, this
paper looks at Sch¨utz’s work on intersubjectivity as an alternative approach to market coordination. As opposed
to the rational maximization of individuals, some have argued that Sch¨utz’s concept of intersubjective structures
of meaning offers a better model for understanding how individuals act in the social world. This paper questions
the soundness of utilizing Sch¨utz’s approach and suggests that the work of the sociologist Erving Goffman offers
a potential model of social interaction that encompasses many elements of Sch¨utz’s framework but does not
share the same limitations. Drawing on selected works of Goffman, a tentative model of social interaction and
decision-making is put forward for discussion and further research.
JEL classiﬁcation: B52, B31.
In recent years, the discipline of economics has been paying greater attention to the work of
Alfred Sch¨utz. More speciﬁcally, the social theorist has been “rediscovered” principally by
a small number of economists afﬁliated with the Austrian school of economics. The term
“rediscovered” is used because Sch¨utz’s contributions to economics, although prominent in
the 1930s and 40s, have largely been forgotten. However, as a member of the Mises circle,
Sch¨utz was a well-known contributor to the formulation of some of the school’s main theo-
retical tenets. In particular, Sch¨utz’s work on intersubjectivity provided the underpinnings
of the Austrian school’s approach to market coordination, as well as larger methodologi-
cal issues (Foss 1996, Pietrykowski 1996, Prendergast 1986). The contemporary interest in
Sch¨utz stems, in part, from a growing insurgence against the approach to market coordination
offered by mainstream neoclassical economics. As opposed to the rational maximization
of individuals, Sch¨utz posits the existence of intersubjective structures of meaning—social
recipes—that enable individuals to act in the social world (Sch¨utz 1970:108).
While Sch¨utz’s theories languished within economics for decades, however, they provided
the impetus for a phenomenological approach to sociology (Collins 1993). In developing
the foundation for ethnomethodology, Harold Garﬁnkel adopted Sch¨utz’s approach to the
phenomenology of the life world, particularly such features as social routine and the prob-
lem of intersubjectivity. However, as Randall Collins points out, the ethnomethodologists
empiricized Sch¨utz’s approach (Collins 1993). For instance, Garﬁnkel conducted a number
of new, and often bizarre studies, such as the so-called “breaching” experiments—activities
principally designed to disrupt cognitive routines. Further, Garﬁnkel modulated some of
The author is currently a doctoral student in sociology. The author acknowledges, without implicating, Roger
Koppl and Randall Collins for helpful comments and suggestions.