Review of The Polish Peasant in Europe and America
WILLIAM I. THOMAS and FLORIAN ZNANIECKI, The Polish Peasant in Europe and America. New York: Dover Publications, 1958. Vols. I-II. xv + ví + 2250 pp. $12.50.
The first edition of this monumental work was published in five volumes in 1918-20. The second in two volumes appeared in 1927. The present edition is an unaltered and unabridged reprint of this second edition.
When the monograph was published for the first time, Thomas had already established his reputation as a sociologist, but Znaniecki was a stranger not only in the field of American letters, but also in that of sociology.
By the time the second edition appeared, the book had exerted such a profound influence on the development of sociology as well as some other related disciplines that the names of its authors became familiar to practically every student of the social sciences in America. Their unusually successful collaboration had also the effect that their names remained irrevocably linked in the minds of many of their readers, even though, upon termination of their partnership, the two scholars diverged theoret-
( 129) -ically from one another. Thomas, following more closely the road paved by The Polish Peasant continued to publish empirical monographs, Znaniecki forsook for a while the field of empirical research and proceeded to develop his own system of theoretical sociology.
Both, although for different reasons, became somewhat dissatisfied with their theoretical and methodological orientations as developed in The Polish Peasant. Their monograph, however, continued to be generally recognized as one of the most outstanding contributions to the modern social science.
This was well brought up in a thoroughgoing theoretical analysis of this book by Herbert Blumer and several other prominent social scientists assembled for this purpose in December, 1938, by the Social Science Research Council.
Although in the crucial matter of the inductive character of the theoretical framework developed by the authors, the verdict of the critics was rather negative, they emphasized very strongly manifold theoretical and methodological contributions of The Polish Peasant which made it, even during the life-time of its authors, a sociological classic.
The book was described by one of its critics as a monumental instance of the revolt against the arm-chair orientation of the older social science and as the beginning of a truly empirical approach in sociology.
It was praised as a significant attempt to integrate the description of social facts with their theoretical interpretation and to combine an analysis of the objective factors operating in human society with that of the subjective experiences of the individuals involved.
It was given credit for initiating an intensive use of personal documents as sources of information—the practice which spread from sociology to several other disciplines—and also for an attempt to develop a theoretical framework suitable to the study of the society in a state of change, i.e., of the problems of social disorganization and reorganization.
It was finally recognized as one of the pioneering attempts to develop a functional view of culture and to investigate the relationship between culture and personality.
In fact, the theoretical significance of The Polish Peasant was so impressive that it positively overshadowed the monograph's main subject, i.e., the study of Polish peasant society and its transformations in Europe and in America. This reviewer is not familiar with any extensive critical analysis of Thomas and Znaniecki's contributions from this point of view.
Such an analysis could have come only from some outstanding student of Polish peasant society, but Вystroń in his Socjologja: Wstęp Informacyjny i Bibliograficzny (1936) cites no Polish evaluations of the book either in its first or in its second edition.
To be sure when the first edition was published, Poland was still in the midst of war. By the time the second edition appeared, Znaniecki has established himself as a recognized leader of the Polish school of
(130) sociology. Thus, also in Poland, the book tended to be viewed more as a theoretical model for research than as a contribution toward the understanding of the peasant society.
Perhaps also the fact that this society had undergone in the meantime rather profound socio-economic and ideological changes, contributed to this situation.
Today, in view of the cataclysmic changes of the last twenty years, this book about The Polish Peasant before 1914 is even more "historical" than ever before. However, like any other profound and well-informed analysis of the past, it throws much light upon the confusing and bewildering complexity of the present situation.
Such parts of the monograph as a comprehensive treatise on the primary group organization among the Polish peasants (some 216 pages of the Vol. I), or its extended treatment of the processes of social disorganization and reorganization within the peasant community, are hardly of less value to any student of Poland and Eastern Europe in general than the famous "Methodological Note" or other theoretical analyses are to a theoretically-oriented social scientist.
A credit is due to Dover Publications for their initiative in making this justly admired theoretical treatise and at the same time an invaluable monograph on the Polish peasant available again, for a modest price, to all interested scholars.