A Notable Reprint
The Polish Peasant in Europe and America. By William I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki. Two volumes. Alfred A. Knopf. $10
"THE POLISH PEASANT" is not a new or even a recent work. For a decade it has been known to sociologists as a classic example of painstaking and scholarly research into the very texture of a national grouping, and as a model for the type of constructive investigation requisite to any sane and sympathetic understanding of that congeries known as America. Published originally in five large volumes, with the imprint of Richard Badger and the University of Chicago, it was, in the very nature of things, confined to a limited circle of the initiate.
Within ten years the esoteric has become common property, sociological concepts and methods have attained respectability, and even technical vocabulary has been absorbed into popular currency. And yet not by the widest stretch of the imagination could this book be accounted a good investment for any publisher. Accordingly more than a passing grateful acknowledgment is due the zeal that now makes this study available to a larger group of readers at a reasonable price and in a text presented without emendation or abridgment.
In pursuit of their purpose the authors utilized the best type of sociological materials available—personal life records, wherever possible, such as letters and other vehicles of personal expression and confession; and out of these was constructed a fascinating and authoritative picturization of that social evolution which results from a continual interaction of individual consciousness and objective social reality. The Polish peasant is studied in his home environment, and we glimpse almost at first hand the psychology and organization of the isolated peasant communities in Poland and their evolution into integral
( 302) parts of the Polish national body. The progressive complication of the problems of a pure society under the inevitable disintegrating forces of a modern world is graphically portrayed. And finally the critical problems inherent in the process of Americanization are analyzed with sedulous care for social truths rather than preconceived doctrine.
... "assimilation" is not an individual but a group phenomenon.... The individual does not stand isolated in the midst of a culturally different group. He is part of a homogeneous group in contact with a civilization which influences in various degrees all of its members. And the striking phenomenon, the central object of our investigation, is the formation of this coherent group out of originally incoherent elements, the creation of a society which in structure and prevalent attitudes is neither Polish nor American, but constitutes a specific new product whose raw materials have been partly drawn from Polish traditions, partly from the new conditions in which the Immigrants live and from American social values as the immigrant sees and interprets them.
Unfortunately the studies of other national groupings, of which the authors hoped "The Polish Peasant" would be only a forerunner, have not materialized. However, the incisive methods and deductions of this pioneer study remain unchallenged and, in general, universally applicable. That it can be reprinted after a decade with its validity unimpugned is rare testimony of a work planned and executed in terms of ultimate values.
"The Polish Peasant" does not merely bear rereading. It is a source of
perennial refreshment because of the diverse sources of interest it supplies.
The ungarnished materials—letters, etc.—would alone justify the book. The
various sectional introductions and annotations transcend in scholarship and
readability the vast mass of sociological verbiage that clutters our libraries;
while the general Introduction, and more especially the famous Methodological
Note, seem the sine qua non of basic sociological procedure. No longer can any
student of social affairs be condoned for his failure to own and to be
thoroughly conversant with this classic.