Contributions of William Isaac Thomas to Sociology III


Kimball Young
Northwestern University

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Northwestern University


The most important document in the third period of Thomas's writing is the magnum opus, The Polish Peasant in Europe and America (with Florian Znaniecki), originally published in five volumes. The initial section depicts the primary group organization of the Polish peasant in Europe, dealing chiefly with the family, class structure, economy, religion, and social control. This is followed by several series of family letters, which constitute the empirical basis of the description and analysis of the culture of the Polish peasant. In the subsequent volumes the disorganization and reorganization of peasant life is analyzed, which is the most extensive study of social assimilation ever made in this country. The final volume consists of a social psychological analysis.

The "Methodological Note" in the first volume has long been regarded as the crucial focus of the entire work, in which he dealt with such topics as social control, errors of particularism, use of comparative methods, culture-personality relationships, attitude and value, prediction of social behavior, and a set of categories to guide future studies of culture groups. Subsequent to the appearance of The Polish Peasant, Thomas's publications tended to reflect the standpoint and method of this great work. Toward the close of this period he became increasingly interested in the social psychological analysis of personality as seen against the background of society and culture, which provided an easy transition to the situational approach.


During the years 1910-1918 Thomas spent much time in Europe collecting materials on the Polish peasant with which to supplement data collected in this country. At the 1913 annual meeting of the American Sociological Society, the central theme of which was "Problems of Social Assimilation," Thomas read an interesting paper, "The Prussian-Polish Situation: An Experiment in Assimilation."' In this he gave a concrete picture of the manner in which the attempted colonization of German Poland in the last quarter of the nineteenth century and down to 1913 had failed in the face of Polish solidarity. This paper vas his first publication drawn from the Polish data.

Also in 1918 appeared the first volume of The Polish Peasant in Europe and America, and during the next two years the other four volumes of the first edition appeared.[2] In the collection and treatment of

( 252) his material Thomas had the aid of a Polish scholar, Florian Znaniecki, who, though trained in philosophy, had turned his attention to the social sciences. This monographic study, in fact, is a work of genuine collaboration of the research and the basic social psychological standpoint upon which it was projected.

The Polish peasant culture was selected because of the accessibility of the materials and because the Polish immigrant posed a question of assimilation in America, but the fundamental matter was the conviction on the part of Thomas that all the various problems of societal life need to be investigated "by isolating given societies and studying them, first, in the totality of their objective complexity, and then comparatively."[3]As it turned out, the choice of the Polish peasant society proved exceptionally fortunate. The materials collected gave a picture of the changing Polish peasant in Europe, and likewise revealed what happened to this group when its members were transplanted to another country, especially into its industrialized cities. The study, therefore, not only gives a total view of a culture, but one of a culture group in transition.

The source materials both in Europe and in this country were gathered by the collaborators over a period of many years. The raw data consist first of all of various series of peasant letters written largely by members of families, some of whom were in this country, others in Europe. Then, too, newspaper files, autobiographical data, public documents, institutional records, historical materials, and data from interviews were used. The following paragraphs offer but a sketch synopsis of the rich content of this great study, which covers 2,244 closely printed pages.

The first volume of the present edition is made up of the "Methodological Note" to be discussed below, and Part I: "Primary Group Organization." Part I is introduced by a two-hundred page discussion of various aspects of primary-group organization among the Polish peasants: the peasant family, marriage, the class system, social environment (that is, other than the family), economic life, religious and magical attitudes, and finally a discussion of theoretic and aesthetic attitudes. Then follows the concrete material, largely in the form of letters. In a comment entitled, "Form and Function of the Peasant Letter," the authors indicate the rich possibilities of analyzing this sort of social data .[4] There are, at first, twenty-eight series of family letters. Each family series itself is preceded with an interpretative comment to indicate the place of this family in a total social situation. Other series of letters follow, showing evidences of the dissolution of family soli-

( 253) -darity ; followed, in turn, by eleven series of letters between husbands and wives, and finally, by eleven series of letters revealing personal relations outside the marriage group and the family.[5]

The first third of the second volume contains Part II: "Disorganization and Reorganization in Poland". Data are presented bearing on the disintegration of the family and the community with the accompanying struggle "for the preservation of the old social system." So, too, the effect of revolutionary attitudes on the transition is discussed. The second division of Part II deals with the efforts at social reorganization in Poland, especially through leadership, education, the extension of the community, the use of the press, cooperative institutions, and the increasing role of the peasant in the Polish nationalist movement. Letters, especially to the press, newspaper accounts, formal and informal statements of organizations, materials from interviews, and historical data are used extensively in this section.

Part III: "Organization and Disorganization in America", deals with the Polish peasant as he adjusts to American society and its culture. At the outset, the migrants lived in a somewhat segregated Polish-American community which had certain "super-territorial" functions. There is also a picture of the conflict between Polish and American culture as exemplified in the lives of the immigrants. This results in personal demoralization, economic re-orientation, leading often to dependency, the breakdown of the family, and the appearance of more serious forms of social problems, such as delinquency of boys, sexual immorality of the girls, vagabondage, and murder. The materials here are drawn largely from the records of charity organizations, legal aid societies, court records, and coroners' reports.

The final division, Part IV, presents an extended autobiography of a Polish immigrant, with critical comments, showing the changes in the life-organization of one individual upon the background of his experiences first in Poland and then in the United States. The publication of this document represents probably the first use of extensive autobiographical material for the purposes of social psychological analysis. Since then this method has been exploited by E. W. Burgess, Clifford R. Shaw, and many others, largely under the suggestion afforded by the Polish study.

It is the "Methodological Note", however, that provides the theoretical contributions which developed out of the years of patient study of a particular cultural group in contemporary European and American society. Just as the collection and interpretation of the rich materials of

( 254) this monograph were the collaboration of two men, so, too, the notes on method must be looked upon as a joint undertaking, although the approach and method are an outgrowth of Thomas's earlier work. Since, however, the standpoint and method worked out in this joint project carried over into subsequent work of Thomas, it is necessary to pass in review the principal concepts and criticisms of method there contained.

In the main, the discussion revolves around the following points: (1) the sociology of social control with special reference to the fallacies of particularism; (2) the use of the comparative and other methods of investigation; (3) the relation of culture to personality, with particular regard to the concepts of attitude and value; (4) the delimitation of the field of sociology to the consideration of culture and social organization, of social psychology to the analysis of the subjective and psychological factors in the social life of the person, and with respect to the latter a set of convenient concepts for dealing with the personality; (5) the problem of prediction and the whole relation of social technology to social theory; and (6) a tentative set of categories growing out of this research which the authors had hoped might serve as a basis for specialized studies of the relation of culture to personality. Let us examine these in some detail.

(1) The possibility for a rational technique for social control is only now emerging; and it is highly important in the study of any past or present system of such control that our approach should be objective and free from those errors of "practical sociology" and particularism which mark so many earlier studies in this field. In their enthusiasm for social reform, people have often been biased by assumptions of right and wrong which are not supported by any adequate scientific investigation of social processes and social organization. Reformers are constantly setting up "explicit or implicit" norms of behavior to which it is assumed everyone should comply. This a priori determination of norms without adequate investigation of the historical and present situations in which the totality of behavior may be found, leads, first of all, to a faulty definition of the data in terms of the "normal" and the "abnormal" and furthermore to the attempt to set up a or the norm as a basis for study and reform.

Often enough matters that seem practically important are scientifically of little value since "the scientific value of a fact depends on its connection with other facts." Precisely for this reason striking facts, especially those that seem abnormal, are frequently far less significant than more commonplace ones. So, too, we must not separate the

( 255) "normal" from the "abnormal", but investigate them in relation to each other, because there "is no break in continuity between the normal and the abnormal in concrete life."[6]

Another serious particularistic error is "the implicit assumption that any group of social facts can be treated theoretically and practically in arbitrary isolation from the rest of the life of the given society." Thus, in a time of crisis, categories such as "prostitution", "crime", "war", and "education" are drawn upon with a view to solving the problems as isolated phenomena under these convenient stereotypes. At the outset all the facts must be taken into account; only later may a selection and isolation of the facts into categories be made.

Two other fallacies are common. These are:

"(1) that men react in the same way to the same influences regardless of their individual or social past, and that therefore it is possible to provoke identical behavior in various individuals by identical means; (2) that men develop spontaneously, without external influence, tendencies which enable them to profit in a full and uniform way from given conditions, and that therefore it is sufficient to create favorable or remove unfavorable conditions in order to give birth to or suppress given tendencies."[7]

(2) the "object-matter" of sociological investigation should be various contemporary societies. While not denying the place and suggestiveness of historical studies or ethnographic researches among living primitive peoples, the authors maintain that since the purpose of an adequate social theory should "be able to satisfy the demands of modern social practice, it is evident that its main object should be the actual civilized society in its full development and with all its complexity of situations, for it is the control of the actual civilized society that is sought in most endeavors of rational practice."[8]

The difficulties of reconstructing the past of any society are so great that distinct limitations surround every purely historical study. As a matter of fact, the authors maintain that "a really objective understanding of history and ethnography can therefore be expected only as a result of a methodical knowledge of present cultural societies."

With contemporary society as an object, how shall one set out to study it? Again the question of isolation of exceptional situations as over against the totality of the situation is before us.

There are two ways out of the dilemma. We may take up a totality of culture examining its various facets, or we may "work on special

( 256) social problems" making comparisons with certain other "concrete social groups" in such a way as to relate these special matters to the complexity of the culture in which they arise. "In studying the society we go from the whole social context to the problem, and in studying the problem we go from the problem to the whole social context."

At the outset we should start with the assumption that we know nothing of the group or the problem, but gradually we begin to limit the field as we acquaint ourselves with the materials. We then pass on to the development of certain methodological assumptions and certain scientific hypotheses. It is only through selection of data and method and the use of tentative hypotheses that we can arrive finally at the more solidly founded generalizations which are the final aim of research. Then upon the basis of the social laws which may develop out of such studies, and not before, we shall be in a position to make really adequate applications to social practice.

(3) With the matter of the comparative method and the object of study carefully circumscribed, we turn to the fundamental problem of the relation of the person to the social life around him. The question is two-fold: (a) "the problem of the dependence of the individual upon social organization and culture, and (b) the problem of the dependence of social organization and culture upon the individual."[10] Only when we have a means of analyzing this dual relationship shall we be in a position to suggest a means whereby the individual may contribute to his group and culture, or, on the other hand, to suggest just what kind of culture and social organization to set up in order to stimulate "desirable mental and moral characteristics in the individuals comprising the social group". To get at these problems, we must recognize two terms in any social equation, namely the "objective cultural elements" and the "subjective characteristics of the members of the social group". To designate the first, Thomas and Znaniecki employ the term "social values" or simply "values", and for the second, the term "attitude". The following quotation makes clear the distinction between these terms:

"By a social value we understand any datum having an empirical content accessible to the members of some social group and a meaning with regard to which it is or may be an object of activity. Thus, a foodstuff, an instrument, a coin, a piece of poetry, a university, a myth, a scientific theory, are social values. . . The meaning of these values becomes explicit when we take them in connection with human actions... The social value is thus opposed to the natural thing, which as a content, but, as a part of nature,

(257) has no meaning for human activity, is treated as `valueless'; when the natural thing assumes a meaning, it becomes thereby a social value... .

"By attitude we understand a process of individual consciousness which determines real or possible activity of the individual in the social world. Thus, hunger that compels the consumption of the foodstuff ; the workman's decision to use the tool; the tendency of the spendthrift to spend the coin; the poet's feelings and ideas expressed in the poem, and the reader's sympathy and admiration; the needs which the institution tries to satisfy and the response it provokes; the fear and devotion manifested in the cult of the divinity; the interest in creating, understanding, or applying a scientific theory and the ways of thinking implied in it-all these are attitudes. The attitude is thus the individual counterpart of the social value; activity, in whatever form, is the bond between them. . .. An attitude is a psychological process treated as primarily manifested in its reference to the social world and taken first of all in connection with some social value. . . . The psychological process remains always fundamentally a state of somebody; the attitude remains always fundamentally an attitude toward something."[11]

(4) In the separate disciplines dealing with culture, the study of values has tended to overshadow the study of attitudes. And in the fields of literature, language, art, economics, politics, and techniques, well-developed conceptual systems have emerged. When we turn, however, to the study of social phenomena from the standpoint of attitudes, we find a great deal of confusion, although ethics, ethnology, and sociology have tried to develop more or less adequate points of view. The field of attitudes is the field of psychology, not, however, so-called "individual psychology", which is largely concerned with the "individual as a distinct entity" isolated "from his social environment", and studies in terms of introspectively determined mental processes, or in terms of organic biological processes got at behavioristically.

The psychology which deals with attitudes as one term in the two-variable pattern of attitude and value is social psychology. And social psychology must be conceived as independent of individual psychology, having its own concepts and methods of work. Its interest is in attitudes, either specific or general, in regard to various values---cultural, physical, or natural in so far as the latter are conditioned by social-cultural experience. As Thomas and Znaniecki put it

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"Social psychology has thus to perform the part of a general science of the subjective side of social culture which we have heretofore usually ascribed to individual psychology or to 'psychology in general'. It may claim to be the science of consciousness as manifested in culture, and its function is to render service, as a general auxiliary science, to all the special sciences dealing with various spheres of social values."[12]

Sociology, on the other hand, is concerned with certain attitudes which express themselves as rules of action and thus take on meanings and become values. Often enough the attitudes corresponding to these social values run counter to other attitudes which the individual may desire to express, such as egocentric wishes that run against the values of social morality. It is the special sets of values that have to do with the "rules of behavior, and the actions viewed as conforming or not conforming with these rules" that constitute the field of sociology. These rules of action viewed objectively and as "more or less connected and harmonious systems" are called social institutions, and the totality of these institutions we term "social organization". Thus social institutions and social organization, viewed as values, constitute the field of sociology. Sociology has a certain standpoint, therefore, distinct from that of social psychology, and yet both are essential to the construction of an adequate social theory. As the authors put it:

 "Sociology, as theory of social organization, is thus a special science of culture like economics or philosophy, and is in so far opposed to social psychology as the general science of the subjective side of culture. But at the same time it has this in common with social psychology: that the values which it studies draw all their reality, all their power to influence human life, from the social attitudes which are expressed or supposedly expressed in them ; if the individual in his behavior is so largely determined by the rules prevailing in his social group, it is certainly due neither to the rationality of these rules nor to the physical consequences which their following or breaking may have, but to his consciousness that these rules represent attitudes of his group and to his realization of the social consequences which will ensue for him if he follows or breaks the rules. And therefore both social psychology and sociology can be embraced under the general term of social theory, as they are both concerned with the relation between the individual and the concrete social group, though their standpoints on this common ground are quite opposite, and though their fields are not equally wide, social psychology comprising the attitudes of the individual toward all cultural values of the given social group, while sociology can study only one type of these values-social rules-in their relation to individual attitudes.” [13]

( 259)

Methodologically, therefore, sociology is concerned with a wide range of rules of behavior as these manifest themselves "in mores, laws, group-ideals, and systematized in such institutions as the family, the tribe, the community, the free association, the state, etc." These constitute the central core of social organization, and are for sociology more important as objects of study than any secondary obligations which may be set up within the narrower limits of specialized associative life, such as the economic or religious field. Not that these latter institutional forms are not important, and the sociologist may concern himself with them on occasion, but only as they relate to the major activities of the group as a whole.

(5) In order to show more clearly the intimate relation of social psychology and sociology to the construction of an adequate social theory, it is necessary to indicate the relation of social theory to scientific method and standpoint in the treatment of the field of "social becoming." In any adequate social theory social becoming must be treated in terms of cause and effect, since all science is an ordering of a plurality of facts brought together in terms of concepts sufficient to the aims of the science in question. As the authors say, "The great and most usual illusion of the scientist is that he simply takes the facts as they are, without any methodological prepossessions, and gets his explanation entirely a posteriori from pure experience."[14] A second fallacy is, moreover, common among many social scientists, namely that the scientific standpoint regarding physical, material data may be duplicated in the study of social data. The authors remark:

"Following uncritically the example of the physical sciences, which always tend to find the one determined phenomenon which is the necessary and sufficient condition of another phenomenon, social theory and social practice have forgotten to take into account one essential difference between physical and social reality, which is that, while the effect of a physical phenomenon depends exclusively on the objective nature of this phenomenon and can be calculated on the ground of the latter's empirical content, the effect of a social phenomenon depends in addition on the subjective standpoint taken by the individual or the group toward this phenomenon and can be calculated only if we know, not only the objective content of the assumed cause, but also the meaning which it has at the given moment for the given conscious beings. This simple consideration should have shown to the social theorist or technician that a social cause cannot be simple, like a physical cause, but is compound, and must include both an objective and a subjective element, a value and an attitude."[15]


If we are to get at necessary and sufficient causes in social theory, then, we must deal with our data as compounded of two sets of variables, operating always in reference to a social situation. Individual activity does not exist in the social milieu without reference to social values. Social interactions in a particular time and place can only be understood when both the attitude and the value are taken into account. The basic statement of this theory is: 

"The cause of a social or individual phenomenon is never another social or individual phenomenon alone, but always a combination of a social and an individual phenomenon.

Or, in more exact terms:

"The cause of a value or of an attitude is never an attitude or a value alone, but always a combination of an attitude and a value."[16]

Any consideration of the interplay of attitude and value leads naturally to a discussion of social law and predictability. Avoiding the metaphysical problem of the nature of ultimate reality, the authors take the stand that social reality, which is their field, may be examined and stated as a system of laws of social becoming. Causal interaction for them can only be stated in terms of the interplay of attitude and value in any given social situation.

"The search for laws does not actually present any special difficulties if our facts have been adequately determined. When we have found that a certain effect is produced by a certain cause, the formulation of this causal dependence has in itself the character of a law; that is, we assume that whenever this cause repeats itself the effect will necessarily follow. The further need is to explain apparent exceptions. But this need of explanation, which is the stumbling-block of a theory that has defined its facts inadequately, becomes, on the contrary, a factor of progress when the proper method is employed. For when we know that a certain cause can have only one determined effect, when we have assumed, for example, that the attitude A plus the value B is the cause of the attitude C, then if the presumed cause A + B is there and the expected effect C does not appear, this means either that we have been mistaken in assuming that A + B was the cause of C, or that the action of A + B was interfered with by the action of some other cause A + Y or X + Y. In the first case the exception gives us the possibility of correcting our error ; in the second case it permits us to extend our knowledge by finding a new causal

(261)     connection, by determining the partly or totally unknown cause A + Y or X + B or X + Y which has interfered with the action of our known case A + B and brought a complex effect D = C + Z, instead of the expected C. And thus the exception from a law becomes the starting-point for the discovery of a new law.

"This explanation of apparent exceptions being the only logical demand that can be put upon a law, it is evident that the difference between particular and general laws is only a difference of the field of application, not one of logical validity."[17]

This leads to the central problem of predictability in social science. Since social life is an ongoing process of change, the generalized statement of any law must be such as to take into account the possibility of such alterations. Social ongoing does not permit of the niceties of experimental control that are possible in the physical sciences. The social scientist is reduced to the method of observation of his materials as they lie before and around him. It is on the basis of these observations that the laws of social becoming may be constructed and applications to social practice made possible. In this way a social technology superior to the guesses and rationalizations of the past may be set up. And whether the aim of such practical methods be the modification of the individual attitudes or a change in social values, the following factors would need to be taken into account. First, the "objective conditions under which the individual or society has to act", that is to say, the social values---economic, political, intellectual, etc.---which at the moment affect the individual or the group. Second, the "pre-existing attitudes of the individual or the group which at the given moment have an actual influence upon his behavior". Third, "the definition of the situation, that is, the more or less clear conception of the conditions and consciousness of the attitudes." The definition of the situation is necessary before any overt action occurs. So, too, the definition of the situation will be conditioned by a wide range of previous attitudes and values from which the individual may select at the moment of definition.

The function of science is to furnish the generalized statement of relations between variables, and this, in short, the authors have attempted to do in their duality of attitude and value. It is the aim of social technology, on the other hand, to develop various means "of a rational control of concrete situations." Thus starting from the general principles, the practical man takes up one situation after another and attempts to work out convenient rules for dealing with type situations. The writers, however, cautiously avoid standing for the development of a

( 262) complete system of controls since this would itself put a damper upon the emergence of novel definitions of situations and hence of new values and attitudes. They hold that "the tendency to advance is associated with the liberty of the individual to make his own definitions".[18]

The authors assume throughout that with an adequate technique of control "it is possible to produce any desirable attitudes and values." This assumption, moreover, rests upon another, that there are certain fundamental dispositions to react to any class of stimuli which society may set before the individual. Every individual has a vast variety of wishes which can be satisfied only by his incorporation in a society." These dispositions are apparently akin to basic tendencies, instincts, or other innate traits or characteristics, which express themselves in social interaction. These dispositions or wishes, as Thomas and Znaniecki call them, get organized into "general patterns" which they enumerate as follows:

"(1) the desire for new experience, for fresh stimulations ; (2) the desire for recognition, including, for example, sexual response and general social appreciation, and secured by devices ranging from the display of ornament to the demonstration of worth through scientific attainment; (3) the desire for mastery, or the `will to power', exemplified by ownership, domestic tyranny, political despotism, based on the instinct of hate, but capable of being sublimated to laudable ambition; (4) the desire for security, based on the instinct of fear and exemplified negatively by the wretchedness of the individual in perpetual solitude or under social taboo."[19]

Although the wishes may rest upon innate drives, the authors insist that they develop only in social life. Moreover, the wishes are capable of an extremely wide range of expression, although any particular society may repress some and foster others, as William Graham Sumner in his Folkways has well demonstrated. The wise range of Sumner's illustrations "should be regarded as proofs of the ability of the individual to conform to any definition, to accept any attitude, provided it is an expression of the public will or represents the appreciation of even a limited group."

(6) Finally, the study of the Polish peasant proved valuable in furnishing a tentative set of categories for further investigations of other culture groups. Polish society, moreover, offered a wide range of data for getting at the total social-cultural complex in its various aspects, for instance, on peasant life, on the breakdown of this life in Poland itself,

( 263) and on the further and different sort of disorganization and reorganization of the Poles in America. Out of their study of the Polish peasant culture they formulated the following rubrics which might be used in comparative studies of particular items of a culture as well as in studies of a total culture:

(i) "The problem of individualization",[20] which has to do with the strain between individualistic behavior and the need for social cohesion. And from this the further question arises: Is individualization merely a transitional stage `between one form of social organization and another', or may it represent a permanent change in the nature of social interaction?

(ii) "The problem of efficiency",[21]which concerns the correlation of individual efficiency and the total social efficiency. There was in Poland a wide range of the former and a distinctly `low scale of social efficiency,' doubtless because of the lack of central political organization, the state... .

(iii) "The problem of abnormality---crime, vagabondage, prostitution, alcoholism, etc., " [22] which leads directly to the question as to how far abnormality is the result of "unavoidable manifestation of inborn tendencies of the individual, and how far it is due to social conditions?" On the basis of their vast materials the authors state that they can hardly "avoid the suggestion that abnormality is mainly, if not exclusively, a matter of deficient social organization." As they put it, "There is hardly any human attitude which, if properly controlled and directed, could not be used in a socially productive way."

(iv) "The occupational problem [23] concerns what happens to the individual in the face of extreme division of labor, carried to the point where there is no longer any stimulation or interest in one's work. The excessive development of the purely economic motive to the exclusion of others is a basic sociological question. Since every attitude tends to affect social organization, the extreme development of narrow economic interests must be set over against the possibility of a type of wider occupational attitude and value which will restore to labor some of the satisfactions which have been lost to it."

(v) "The relation of the sexes” [24] is a matter which intrudes itself into every culture. There are here two fundamental questions: first, "How can a maximum of reciprocal response be obtained with a minimum of interference with personal interests?" And second, "How is the general social efficiency of a group affected by the various systems of relations between man and woman?"


(vi) "The problem of social happiness"[25] they believe does not warrant any positive comment, but it is one which certainly must be raised. The mater of happiness, as they remark, has never been seriously studied since the "epoch of Greek hedonism" except in very abstract philosophy or else in meaningless popular form."

The authors wisely ask: "Has this problem been so much neglected because of its difficulty or because, under the influence of certain tendencies immanent in Christianity, happiness is still half-instinctively regarded as more or less sinful, and pain as meritorious? However that may be, the fact is that no things of real significance have been said up to the present about happiness, particularly if we compare them with the enormous material that has been collected and the innumerable important ideas that have been expressed concerning unhappiness."[26]

 (vii) "The problem of the fight of races (nationalities) and cultures"[27] presents itself. The Polish study has afforded a rich body of suggestions for further analysis of modern reshuffling of nationalities and cultures.

 (viii) "The problem of an ideal organization of culture"[28] grows out of all these others. It is one of the oldest sociological problems "lying on the border between theory and practice." Is there possible one perfect social organization that will unify the widest individualism and the strongest social cohesion, and if so, may this sort of thing develop under rational control? Or is such an ideal itself mere fantasy? If the former ideal be impossible, then by compromise and sublimation may the struggle of races and cultures be reduced in violence and there emerge a recognition of the value of respective groups and cultures for the world?

No matter how we phrase any of the problems, the authors are convinced that only by systematic and scientific sociological investigation of various cultures may we be able to solve them.

To summarize, we may state that while the fundamental purpose of the Polish study was to exemplify a standpoint and method in regard to a total culture, both standpoint and method, in turn, were affected by the nature of the data. Rather than escape the hard work of detailed analysis by flight into philosophic verbalisms, the collaborators remained engrossed in their material and tried to see around and beneath its surface features to the underlying principles of social behavior. Thus emerged new conceptual tools of "attitude" and "value" and "definition of situation" in relation to which we have the motivations expressed in the four wishes.

To venture to characterize the content of such a well-rounded study

( 265) would be presumptuous indeed. The monograph will long stand as a classic analysis of a contemporary Euro-American culture group, distinguished by its completeness of material and brilliance of interpretation. One returns to its pages again and again to discover new facets of social behavior that had escaped one previously. Students of cultural assimilation, especially anthropologists, who are now concerning themselves with contemporary cultures, have much to learn from it. The influence of this whole study, in fact, has been largely indirect through the subsequent writings of both Thomas and Znaniecki, and more especially through their personal influence upon various research programs and theoretical discussions in sociology and social psychology.[29]

In concluding the discussion of the Polish study, one may well say that it represents Thomas's greatest contribution to sociological theory and method. Although the work as it developed called for collaboration, the fundamental standpoint Thomas carried forward into other investigations. And, though changes in emphasis are evident in this approach to other materials, these changes but represent further development of the point of view of this study, as we shall see in the next section.

During 1917, while completing the monograph on the Polish peasant, Thomas contributed a paper, "The Persistence of Primary-Group Norms in Present-day Society and their Influence in our Educational System", to a symposium called Suggestions of Modern Science Concerning Education." In his chapter, Thomas drew up his schema of the four wishes. Upon the basis of these wishes and using illustrations from his rich materials from ethnology and contemporary cultures, he indicated what Ogburn later called the "cultural lag" between the educational standards of the primary group and the demands of a world characterized by modern industry and business with its urbanization, mechanization of production, and removal from simple conditions of living in which these primary group norms had grown up.

With the Polish study out of the way, Thomas turned his attention to other matters. After he and Robert E. Park had finished their work for the Americanization study during 19l8-1919,[31] he took up an investigation in the field of juvenile delinquency at the request of Mrs. William F. Dummer, who had for many years stimulated research in this field.[32] The results of this study were published in 1923 in a volume entitled, "The Unadjusted Girl: with Cases and Standpoint for Behavior Analysis."[33] with a foreword by Mrs. Dummer.

The materials for this book, largely in the nature of case records, were collected by Thomas from the files of social workers, from

( 266) institutional records, from newspapers and other sources. In his analysis of so-called delinquent behavior Thomas drew upon his theory of the four wishes. He restated them in slightly different terms as follows: (1) "the desire for new experience", (2) "the desire for security", (3) "the desire for response", (4) "the desire for recognition."

The moral quality of any act rests upon the social definition of this act rather than upon the individual's private view. With the wishes as the clue to motor behavior, Thomas analyzes in some detail the societal regulation of these wishes as they express themselves in conduct. The concept "definition of the situation", which was developed in the Polish study, is expanded considerably as a basis for understanding the whole range of control which the group puts upon the individual in terms of ordering and forbidding techniques, gossip, gestures, use of such words as Walter Lippmann called "stereotypes",[35] remonstrance, reproof, entreaty, sulking, tears, mores, and the law. Yet in spite of its efforts "no society has ever succeeded in regulating the behavior of all its members satisfactorily all the time." There are always forms of behavior that run counter to the social norms. And forgiveness itself "has been one of the functions of the community, sometimes more particularly the function of the God of the community."

This fact of divergence is pertinent to the evolution of personality. As Thomas puts it, the group or society has two interests in the individual-to suppress wishes and acts which conflict with existing social organization, and to foster wishes and actions which "are required by the existing social system." But invention and new culture forms break up the old social definitions and tend to free the person and make possible an "individualization of behavior" not thought possible before. Thomas develops this thesis through the use of typical cases.

This treatment of individualization leads to an analysis of what makes for the demoralization of young girls in contemporary Western, especially American, society. The ordinary social definitions of behavior are often weak; in other instances, the exposure to new conditions brings a breakdown of former habits and attitudes, as new values replace old ones. In this the desire for new experience, for excitement and thrill, seems to play a leading part. The sexual factor as such plays apparently a much more insignificant part than is usually assumed. Writing of sexually delinquent girls Thomas says, "Their sex is used as a condition of the realization of other wishes. It is their capital.""

Thomas next goes on to interpret the significance of various social agencies in their efforts to rehabilitate the broken home, to reinstate the

( 266) individual in a role acceptable to society, and to take the place, in this country at least, of agencies such as the kinship group which elsewhere may have both a restraining and a wholesome stimulating effect upon the wayward person. Certain social agencies, of course, like the penitentiary and reformatory, have largely a negative effect upon offenders. "They represent the legal concept of crime and punishment and the theological concept of sin and atonement. . . . The punishment is supposed to atone for the offense and effect the reformation."" Agencies such as the juvenile court, the special educational institutions for delinquents and underprivileged children, and even the formal school are cited as evidences of positive, preventive, and constructive means of handling these problems.

In the final chapter, "The Measurement of Social Influence", Thomas brings together the theoretical principles running throughout this volume, which are drawn very directly from the "Methodological Note" of The Polish Peasant in Europe and America. He restates the methods of study, especially as applied to delinquency and crime, points out the danger of confusing social norms with scientific norms of objective study, and finally discusses the need to consider every isolated problem in the total framework of the culture from the angle of the wishes, and the attitudes and values. Moreover, since experimentation with the social influences on human beings, in any strict sense, is distinctly limited, we must have recourse to other means of investigation. In elaborating this point Thomas discusses the use of autobiographies, of the case records of social agencies, and of intimate documents. He is insistent, however, that we guard ourselves against the exceptional and the bizarre instance. As Thomas aptly states, "Scientifically tile history of dull lives is quite as significant as that of brilliant ones". All types of persons and all types of behavior should be studied by this "genetic-historical method", as the present writer has put it.[38]

Through the continued investigation into the relations of personality to social values we shall be in a position to influence "social practice as in the case of medical and technological research." In closing Thomas repeats from the Polish study several of the major types of problems of the relation of the personality to culture.[39]

The Unadjusted Girl, therefore, turns out to be a study of certain limited phenomena in contrast to the Polish study, which was an interpretation of an entire culture. Thus, Thomas ably demonstrates the feasibility of the special, isolated study as well as the larger investigation of a totality of culture and personality. In this work he again performed an invaluable service for sociological methodology.[40]

( 268)

During the years 1923-1926, Thomas continued his studies into problems of personality. He read widely in the psychology of behaviorism and in modern psychiatry and began to shift the emphasis of his analysis more and more toward a study of the conditioning factors in the environment rather than to elaborate on the four wishes as a basis for interpretation of personality. This standpoint became increasingly apparent about 1925.

At the twentieth annual meeting of the American Sociological Society, held in New York City in December, 1925, he read a paper, "The Problem of Personality in the Urban Environment".[41] This article dealt with the adaptation of the person to the urban environment of America, using certain Polish materials as illustrations. Behavior traits of the person "are the outcome of a series of definitions of situations with the resulting reactions and their fixation in a body of attitudes or psychological sets."

We can understand the behavior of the person only if we get at the history of his learned experience, which as groups of attitudes may be called "experience complexes". An individual may possess a number of these "experience complexes" relating to varying objects or values. In this way it is possible to understand dual or multiple "experience complexes", which are different only in degree from the dual or multiple personality patterns found in psychopathic patients.

So, too, variability within different nationalities and other culture groups is probably greater than we imagine except as it is masked by conformity to group standards. Variability of response is due to the variety of attitudes and values, and any situation may set off any one of several responses. Thomas illustrates this with reference to the Polish behavior both in Poland and America.

In conclusion, Thomas shows that in American cities the problem of the Pole and his children is not unlike that of the children of any American family where the rapidly changing environment has produced a strain between the standards of the older and younger generation. There results a form of disorganization, which Thomas holds to be for the most part "a transitional stage between two forms of organization". The fantasy life in which the child, the youth, or the immigrant may indulge, in this process of transition, may lead to further disorganization or "to a higher type of organization."

This last point is one raised in the "Methodological Note" of The Polish Peasant in Europe and America, and, by implication at least,

( 269) at the close of The Unadjusted Girl. Thomas refers to it again in The Child in America (1928). It is a point that is peculiarly pertinent in the modern changing world. Whether in the reorganization which follows from disorganization, the nature of individual attitudes may become really more or less flexible than in the past remains to be seen. The question raises the basic issue of the interrelations between social organization and personality traits and attitudes.

Beginning about 1926, Thomas turned his attention to the development of personality considered from the angle of social psychology. This led him to examine the literature on child behavior and to make extensive first-hand contacts with various methods of studying child life current in this country.

While he was working up this material, he turned aside to prepare a paper, "The Configurations of Personality", for a symposium on the unconscious which was stimulated by Mrs.William F. Dummer.[42] In the formation of personality there are "certain satisfactions, objects of desire, which men always and everywhere want and seek to secure.”' These he terms "values". These values fall into fields of behavior, partially "instinctive", partially learned. Attitudes or reaction tendencies are developed toward these "values as stimuli". Furthermore, the four wishes are related directly to these values or fields of experience.

"From this standpoint a personality would be regarded as an organization of attitudes, and personalities would be distinguished among themselves by their greater or less tendency to seek their satisfactions, play their roles, in this or that field of the values... .

"Viewed, then, as a configuration, a personality would be a background of attitudes and values common to everybody, upon which certain attitudes and values, or constellations of attitudes and values, assume a prominent or perhaps a dominant position. “[43]

The proportions and variations of this clustering of wishes into attitudes and values produce divergences in personalities. But to understand these it is necessary not only to study them as an organized system, but they "will have to be related also to the habit systems and stimulus system of the groups with which he (the person) has more or less intimacy."

Upon this social psychological framework Thomas makes a unique attempt to treat the unconscious from a sociological rather than a psychological standpoint. For his purpose he says that "the conscious and the unconscious represent simply more and less awareness of what is

( 270) going on." In this sense much of our social stimulation and response are definitely unconscious.

His first classification of typical cases illustrates what he calls "visceral unconscious", that is, the whole range of habit formation due to repetition of stimulation at a physiological level, illustrated by food bias, and the determination of preferences and aversions of all sorts. He indicates how much social interaction is affected by just this sort of unconscious learning.

The second type of unconscious is that which he calls the "lapsed conscious". Here one finds a host of socially determined habits and attitudes, the sources of which are lost to conscious recall, but which loom large in social intercourse. The "collective representations" of Durkheim and Levy-Bruhl fall largely into this class. In simple and non-literate societies marked by static conditions of life, habit formation is largely determined in this way, and there is a "harmony between the habit system and the stimulus system", that is, between attitudes and values. In fact, what is called "individuation" results when "the habit system of the group is not changing as fast as the stimulus system of the individual." This problem is dealt with in The Unadjusted Girl, and again in The Child in America. Here he simply cites a few cases to illustrate how the breakdown of the old habit system or definitions of the situation give rise to new and more individualized definitions or habits, the roots of such change in habits are not always consciously recalled.

A third form of the unconscious which affects social behavior is, for want of a better term, called "cortical unconscious", although this is really a combination of cortical, visceral, and "lapsed" unconscious effects. Here we enter the area of creative imagination leading to inventions, artistic productions, novel social forms, and new philosophies. This is the field of the fantasy and the dream, so greatly elaborated by Freud and Jung. Thomas makes no comment on the theoretical formulations of psychoanalysis, however, but presents his illustrative cases to show how past experiences get rewoven into new creations through the unconscious. He does not concern himself with the matter of psychological mechanisms but rather with the social precipitates of such unconscious synthesis. Drawing upon the materials of psychology, psychiatry, literature, and the history of science, he shows the rich flowering of the unconscious in new mental productions. At the end, he suggests, as he so commonly does in closing his papers or books, new leads for further research. "It would be a great psychological undertaking", he

( 271) writes, "to work out this relation of the unconscious and of the creative imagination to the social backgrounds and psychic configurations of different historical periods, with their emphasis on the different fields of values."[44] In other words, he suggests a sociological and social psychological approach to the history of artistic creation, mechanical and mathematical invention, and even, by implication, to the emergence of novel social theories, religious formulations, and philosophies.

This is the third installment of the series of articles on William Isaac Thomas. The first and second articles appeared in the October, 1962, and January, 1963, issues, and the final article will appear in the July, 1963, issue.


  1. American Journal of Sociology, 19 (March, 1914), 674-89; and in Publications of the American Sociological Society, 8 (1914), 84-99.
  2. In 1927 the entire work was re-issued by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, in a two-volume reprinting without any changes, except minor corrections in the text and the shifting of the long autobiography to the final section of the second volume. The references in the present discussion will all be to the two-volume reprinting.
  3. Preface in the first volume, p. vii. Compare Source Book for Social Origins.
  4. Letters were gathered through the aid of various social and legal agencies in this country and in Poland.
  5. The Polish family is really a kinship group, often including relatives quite far removed. The authors use the term "marriage group" to designate the type of family common in American society.
  6. Cf. W. I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki, The Polish Peasant in Europe and America, I, 9-10.
  7. Ibid., 12.
  8. Ibid., 17.
  9. Ibid., 18. Compare this standpoint with the functionalism of A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, the anthropologist, in his paper, "The Present Position of Anthropological Studies," Proceedings of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (London, 1931) Sec. H, Anthropology, 1-32. See also RadcliffeBrown, The Andamnan Islanders (Cambridge: The University Press, 1922).
  10. Ibid., 20.
  11. Ibid., 21-23.
  12. Ibid., 30-31.
  13. Ibid., 33.
  14. Ibid., 37. Compare this statement with the discussion in Herbert Blumer's, "Science without Concepts," American Journal of Sociology, 36 (January, 1931), 515-33. See also Walter W. Cook, "The Possibilities of Social Study as a Science," in Essays on Research in the Social Sciences (Washington: The Brookings Institution, 1931).
  15. Ibid., 38.
  16. Ibid., 44.
  17. Ibid., 54-55. See further discussion of special cultural manifestations in contrast to general, universal ones, ibid., 55-56.
  18. Ibid., 72.
  19. Ibid., 73. In vol. II, in the introduction to Part IV bearing on the long autobiography, the authors list the wishes as "desire for new experience", "desire for stability", "desire for response", and "desire for recognition". As I understand it, Thomas and Znaniecki never held that there are only four wishes, but rather that out of their data these convenient classificatory categories arose. Some sociologists and social psychologists made these over into the four wishes.
    Moreover, some have gone a step further and have attempted to force these categories into becoming all-explanatory terms. Thus handy classificatory concepts are stretched by ardent followers to mean something not intended by their originators. Such errors arise from a misreading of the "Methodological Note".
  20. Ibid., I, 78.
  21. Ibid., 78-79.
  22. Ibid., 79-80. This standpoint departs considerably from even the mild eugenic ideal which Thomas defended in 1909. See above.
  23. Ibid., 80-82.
  24. Ibid., 82-84.
  25. Ibid., 84.
  26. Ibid.
  27. Ibid., 84-85.
  28. Ibid., 85-36.
  29. For an appraisal of the Polish Peasant, see Herbert Blumer, An Appraisal of Thomas and Znaniecki's The Polish Peasant in Europe and America (New York: Social Science Research Council, 1939).
  30. Published by The Macmillan Company of New York. The other authors were If. S. Jennings, Adolf Meyer, and John B. Watson.
  31. There has been some debate as to Thomas's role in the actual writings of Old World Traits Transplanted (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1921.) Thomas probably wrote an early draft but it appears that Robert E. Park and Herbert A. Miller did the final draft.
  32. It was Mrs. Dummer who supported the early work of Dr. William Healy in Chicago before he became associated with the judge Baker Foundation in Boston.
  33. Published by Little, Brown and Co. of Boston, as Criminal Science Monograph, No. 4, under the general editorship of the American Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology.
  34. See reference under footnote 19 above.
  35. Cf. Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1922), 79-114. Thomas did not use the word "stereotype."
  36. The Unadjusted Girl, with Cases and Standpoint for Behavior Analysis, 109.
  37. Ibid., 171.
  38. Cf. Kimball Young, "The Measurement of Personal and Social Traits," Publication of the American Sociological Society, 22 (1927), 92-105, for a discussion of the theoretical implications of this method.
  39. In The Unadjusted Girl, 255-57 Thomas mentions a number of the problems which might be studied in culture-personality relations.
  40. Other workers, notably Dr. William Healy and his co-workers, had already begun to investigate problems of delinquency from a somewhat similar point of view.
  41. Published in Papers and Proceedings of the American Sociological Society, 32 (July, 1926), 30-39.
  42. See The Unconscious: A Symposium, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1927).
  43. Ibid., 144.
  44. As one of his pertinent illustrations Thomas drew upon John Livingston Lowes, The Road to Xanadu, (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1927).

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