Review of The Polish Peasant

Donald Young

William I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki. The Polish Peasant in Europe and America. New York: Knopf 1927. (2 vol). Pp. xv + 1115, 1117 - 2230.

This two-volume second edition of The Polish Peasant in Europe and America might be difficult to justify merely on the basis of mechanical improvements in printing and binding if it were an ordinary study in social psychology and sociology, for no material changes in content have been made. It is, however, a pioneer work in both fields and will long stand as the model and defense for the monographic presentation and interpretation of social facts. The thesis of the authors as to method is perhaps most clearly stated when they write: “We are safe in saying that personal life records, as complete as possible, constitute the perfect type of sociological material, and that if social science has to use other materials at all it is only because of the practical difficulty of obtaining at the moment a sufficient number of such records to cover the totality of sociological problems, and of the enormous amount of work demanded for an adequate analysis of all the personal materials necessary to characterize the life of a social group. If we are forced to use mass-phenomena as material, or any kind of happenings taken without regard to the life-histories of the individuals who participate in them, it is a defect, not an advantage, of our present sociological method (pp. 1932-33).

The "methodological note” in the first volume and the introduction to Part IV vigorously defend this method. In these sections

(492) may also be found the most concise explanations of the authors’ concepts of social attitudes, values causation, etc., all of which are distinct contributions of the greatest significance to social psychology. The masses of facts from the life histories of Polish peasants, both in Poland and as immigrants to America, demonstrate the efficiency not only of these concepts but also of the monographic method in dealing with such problems of social disorganization as may be found in family relations, sex delinquency, crime and the like.

A detailed critical review at this late date (the date of the original publication was 1918) would be presumptuous, for such a striking contribution should be well known by all students of human relations. Unfortunately, there is reason to believe that its significance has escaped many of these students, especially those whose major interests lie in the field of psychology. If the new edition serves to make Thomas and Znaniecki’s work better known to only a few of these it will justify the considerable expenditure obviously required for the presentation of the work in such an excellent edition.

Donald Young
University of Pennsylvania


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