Michael D. Barber

Saint Louis University

Thomas Nenon, President of the Center for Advanced Research in Phenomenology, Inc., presents the Ballard Prize to Michael Barber.

Michael D. Barber. The Participating Citizen. SUNY Press, 2004

This is a very fine, readable biography that provides a well-rounded picture of Schutz’s life and work. Barber reconstructs the life primarily through letters and intersperses the chronology with discussions of Schutz’s essays and books. These discussions are informative, though they consist primarily of brief summaries of the main points of the works. These points are often contextual¬ized with reference to the ideas of those with whom Schutz was in professional and personal contact: Mieses, Hayak, Parsons, Gurwitsch, Kaufmann, van Breda, Farber, Voegelin, and many more. A picture of Schutz’s many-sided intellectual interests – economics, sociology, methodological foundations of the social sciences, philosophy, phenomenology – emerges. The difficulties of Schutz’s personal life, and the humanity with which he dealt with them, and with other people, are presented vividly and sympathetically. Though the basic concepts of Schutz’s thought are not give exhaustive philosophical explication, the reader comes away with a good sense for his overarching intellectual commitments (e.g., methodological individualism, commitment to the subjective interpretations of actors on the social scene, value-neutrallity) and themes. There is even a “plot” of sorts: Schutz’s temperamental resistance to expressing substantive ethical commitments in his work is inherited from the Viennese milieu of value-neutrality in social science and from a basic Weberian understanding of the relation between social scientific inquiry and ethical matters. In a climactic chapter Barber shows how Schutz’s resistance (evident, supposedly, in his essays “The Stranger” and “The Homecomer”) was interpreted by Gurwitsch and Voegelin as “nihilism.” In a paper for a conference in 1954, however, and drawing on Brown v. Board of Education, Schutz expresses a value commitment to a version of democracy based on “Citizen Participants” (from which Barber’s book gets its title), thereby bringing the obvious ethical commitments evident in his person expressly into his work for the first time. In hindsight, however, Barber argues, one can see that Schutz’s emphasis on interpersonal relations adumbrates the ethical stance that emerges in this late essay.

Barber’s book can be criticized as biography (there is a lot about Schutz’s life that doesn’t get into it because, presumably, there are no letters that document it), but it is a major achievement in bringing together the work and the man. It is not, however, really a work of phenomenology, though it is certainly a work that tells us much about the reception of phenomenology in America.