Review of The Polish Peasant in Europe and America

Ellsworth Faris

This important work was published in intervals between 1918 and 1920, appearing at first in five volumes. The authors and publisher have placed American scholarship under obligation in presenting the public with the two-volume edition at a greatly reduced price. It is safe to say that the availability of the material will be increased many fold by this action. The two volumes are entirely unchanged save for the repagination and the addition of an index which, though not exhaustive, is very good. Volume III was originally devoted to the autobiography of an immigrant, which was followed by the discussion of social organization in Volumes IV and V. The autobiography now appears at the end, but the text is unaltered, and the resulting convenience and economy will be much appreciated.

This work is a strong competitor for the position of the most valuable contribution to American sociological literature. The authors have undertaken to exemplify a definite method of research which, if it were to be adopted widely, ought to result in a science of society. If it be assumed, in accordance with the point of view underlying this work, that human nature cannot be studied in general since it nowhere can be observed in general, the necessity arises of studying it in particular. Human nature as it appears among peasants differs from the same phenomenon observable in the aristocratic ruling classes. The authors have chosen to study peasants, and they do not assume that this material will necessarily throw light upon the social forms or personalities of the nobility or the bourgeoisie. But even the peasant is too large a task. A further limitation was necessary which resulted in the confining of the study to the Polish peasant. This selection was made, not on account of any special interest in the Polish peasant, but because the large immigration into America made available a valuable body of data.

The conclusions often derived by readers from these volumes can be defended by quotations, but have often greatly exceeded the claims which the authors make for their work. There is an explicit caution to the read-

(817) -er (pp. 1822-23) not to assume that these volumes have reached conclusions concerning human nature in general. "We did not feel entitled to transfer definite conclusions from one society to other societies, to claim that the socio-psychological law-- or what seem to be laws---found in studying the Polish peasant are also applicable to the American business man, to the Jew, to the Italian peasant, or even to the Polish country noble or bourgeois, without having previously investigated these societies at least as thoroughly as we have investigated the Polish peasant communities. Our work does not pretend to give any definite and universally valid sociological truths, nor to constitute a permanent model of sociological research; it merely claims to be a monograph, as nearly complete as possible under the circumstances, of a limited social group at a certain period of its evolution, which may suggest studies of other groups, more detailed and more perfect methodically, thus helping the investigation of modern living societies to rise above its present stage of journalistic impressionism and preparing the ground for the determination of really exact general laws of human behavior."

This admirable and modest passage taken from the conclusion of the whole work has not only been overlooked by many readers but also seems sometimes to have been forgotten by the authors themselves. It should be remembered, however, that the theoretical generalizations which are introduced in the Methodological Note of 86 pages and the Introduction to the biography of 84 pages were written before the foregoing quotation and should probably be interpreted in the light of the final statement just quoted.

The new position of the autobiography will present to the careful reader an interesting puzzle. On page 72 it is asserted that the producing of any desirable attitudes and values is possible, but only if we find in the individual certain attitudes which cannot avoid response to the class of stimulations which society is able to apply to him. The famous four wishes are then enumerated as: (1) the desire for new experience, (2) the desire for recognition, (3) the desire for mastery, (4) the desire for security. This list is revised in the Introduction to the autobiography, but it is not until page 1882 is reached that the desire for response is set forth as replacing the third wish in the former statement. For about a thousand pages the reference to the desire for response occurs frequently and no reason for the change in classification is explicitly made. In literary materials on the Polish peasant, particularly the four-volume work of Reymont, there is abundant reason for asserting a desire for mastery, "exemplified by ownership, domestic tyranny based on the instinct of

( 818) hate," and one wonders why this category is completely neglected in the materials.

The actual labor of collecting the data on which this work is based represents years of patient and painstaking industry. The printed documents fall chiefly in the following classes: First, 764 letters to and from America are printed. These are arranged in some fifty series and are carefully annotated and the theoretical conclusions and interpretations skilfully made. The disorganization and reorganization of the peasants in Poland is based primarily upon extracts from the press, of which more than two hundred appear. These, are all carefully classified and discussed with scientific restraint. There is a series of documents describing the organizations and societies that arose in the attempt to reorganize the national life of Poland. The organization and disorganization of the peasant in America is based on a series of documents, more than a hundred in number, taken from the court records and from the case records of the social workers in Chicago. And finally there is the autobiography of one immigrant, which runs to more than three hundred closely printed pages. This also has many skilfully written annotations which are designed to point out the theoretical implications of the concrete material. Limitations of space obviously forbade any other biographies, but this particular sample is hardly to be classed as representing more than a single type. It would add much to what we know if there were a series of autobiographies of immigrants, for the frank confessional character of this document probably indicates a definite temperament by no means to be found throughout the whole group.

There have been many studies of particular social groups, but nothing so important nor so painstakingly descriptive of an immigrant society has ever been printed. The amount of information to be had from letters, press clippings, case records, and court reports is astonishing and should be encouraging to sociologists who desire facts on which to base their theories.

The Polish Peasant has already been widely used and frequently noticed in reviews. Every comment has praised the wealth of material and the skill of organization. The criticisms have usually taken the form of questioning the defensibility of applying to society in general conclusions based on the study of Polish peasants. This matter has already been noticed. Other criticisms go a step further. It has been questioned whether the theoretical conclusions in this work are really derived from the material at all. A careful reading forces the reader to question seriously whether the four wishes or the theory of attitudes and values has any

(819) essential dependence on the concrete materials. At least the documentation does not reveal it.

That other monographic studies of similar groups should be made on this model is the wish of every sociologist. Perhaps equally important is the even more difficult enterprise of bringing the theoretical principles to some sort of clear and incisive test so that the working concepts of our science may have less ambiguity and wider acceptation.



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