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Schutzian Research

Volume 8, 2016

Michael M. Hanke
Pages 103-120

Schutz’ Semiotics and the Symbolic Construction of Reality

Some decades before Umberto Eco refounded semiotics in the sixties, Alfred Schutz had already elaborated a theory on signs and symbols. Moreover, as Schutz himself affirms, neither was he the first to do so. The thoughts of Charles Sanders Peirce had already clearly influenced American pragmatism, and thinkers like George Herbert Mead and Ernst Cassirer had developed a theory of symbols, both referred to by Schutz in his later works. Nonetheless, sign theory was already present in his first book, Der sinnhafte Aufbau der sozialen Welt, and can be traced to the influence of Edmund Husserl. Schutz’s focus on the analysis of the relationship between individual and society fomented his perception of the importance of intermediary communication and sign processes as the setting and interpretation of signs, “Zeichensetzung und Zeichendeutung”, reflections that in his later working phase resulted in a proper sign theory, which is analyzed in the following article. Based on Husserl’s concept of pairing, Schutz here develops his theory of appresentational references, comprising a subdivision of: marks, indications, signs and symbols. This involves the concept of representation, a relationship between the signifier and the signified, and a subjective as well as constructive interpretation by actors. Consequently, this concept involves an objective sign system, a social situation and, as inserted into a process of communication, complementary producers (senders) and receptors (receivers) of signs and symbols. In the final comments the question is addressed whether, and in what sense, given the preceding theory of appresentational references, Schutz would hold that reality is a symbolic construction, as proposes the title of the 2016 conference on Schutz in Tokyo, The Symbolic Construction of Reality.

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