Review of The Polish Peasant in Europe and America

Warner Gettys

The Polish Peasant in Europe and America. Ву WILLIAM I. THOMAS and FLORIAN ZNANIECKI . New York, Dover Publications, Inc., 1958. Vol. I, pp. xv, 1-1116; Vol. II, pp. ví, 1117-2250, $12.50.

This major contribution to the literature of sociological theory and methodology is now made available in a moderately priced republication of the second revised edition. For twenty-five years the work has been out of print and accessible to students only in some libraries and occasionally on the rare book market at several times the price being asked for this edition. The work of two of the foremost sociologists, this monograph in two huge volumes is, in the estimation of the reviewer, the outstanding sociological classic of the twentieth century. It is a 'must' for all scholars who work in the behavioral sciences.

The monograph is opened with an 86-page methodological note in which the authors state their basic assumptions, the procedures followed, the fallacies of common-sense sociology, and the criteria by which data are selected and judged. The note has long been regarded as a brilliant discussion of sociological method and theory. It introduces a number of concepts which have become valuable tools of sociological analysis. For example, nowhere in the literature does one find a comparable treatment of the interrelatedness of individual attitudes and social values.

The authors follow up the note with a lengthy introduction to such facets of Polish peasant society and culture in the old country and in America as the great family structure, sexuality and marriage, the class system, the typical stages of economic development, the bifurcated social milieu, the nature and place of religious and magical attitudes, and theoretic and esthetic interests. Here the reader is given a picture of an essentially static folk culture being subjected to the impact of social forces making for changings which, in turn, make for social disorganization, the radical alteration of attitudes and values, and the demoralization of the individual immigrant.

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the work is the extensive and effective use of documents—letters, case studies, and the autobiographical life-history of a young Polish immigrant. Some fifty series of letters, numbering over 700 in all, comprise the last 800 pages or so of the first volume. These letters are broken down into four categories—correspondence between members of family groups, between husbands and wives, between persons outside the kinship relation, and individual letters and fragments of letters showing the deterioration of family solidarity. The series touch on many subjects and are written by nearly illiterate peasants, workers, middle-class trades people, and by near intellectuals. The collection is unique and provides a penetrating insight into the variety of social forces, such as urbanization, education, military service, labor mobility, revolution, impending war, and similar factors, which impinge upon family, community, and the individual to alter

(652) the original Polish culture and to cause reinterpretations, new alignments, new needs, and new ways of wish satisfaction to emerge.

Volume II consists of three parts of the monograph: Part II, Disorganization and Reorganization in Poland; Part III, Organization and Disorganization in America; and Part IV, Life-Record of an Immigrant. The concepts of social disorganization and social reorganization get one of the best analyses to be found anywhere. Similarly, personal organization and personal disorganization are expertly handled. It is in connection with these discussions of the broken family, the decay of communal solidarity, the rise of class and religious revolutionism, anomie and personal demoralization, economic dependency, disruption of the conjugal relation, criminality, vagabondage, sexual immorality, and the efforts at the amelioration and correction of these problems in the old country and in America that the authors introduce more than 100 primary source documents: court records, newspaper articles, parish reports, cultural surveys, and documentary materials. With documentation of cases, the writers picture the struggle of communities, groups, and individuals to meet new opportunities and challenges and explain how and why they so often fail. The long and difficult passage to assimilation for the immigrant into a new environment is told with telling effect.

An introduction of some 80 pages prefaces the final document—the autobiography of a Polish worker. This introduction ranks with the methodological note in Volume I as among the sociological classics of our time. As the authors say, the problem of this part of the monograph is "the application of the methods of social psychology to an evolving personality." It is here that the merits of the life-history document in socio-psychological research are elucidated and illustrated. It is here also that one finds a thorough and insightful discussion of the typology of personality development; the authors' contribution of the typical-lines-of-genesis concept; the rather ambiguous and dubious term temperament (as defined by Thomas and Znaniecki) and its relation to character development; the importance of the definition of the situation; the postulated Philistine, Bohemian, and creative man forms of personal determination toward which social personalities tend to evolve, with an indefinite number of variations, of course; and a reformulation of the wish concept and its four generalized forms. The latter portion of the introduction carries the discussion of personality development through a set of four parallel and interdependent processes: (1) Determination of the character on the ground of the temperament; (2) Constitution of a life-organization which permits a more or less complete objective expression of the various attitudes included in the character; (3) Adaptation of the character to social demands put upon the personality; and (4) Adaptation of individual life-organization to social organization.

Wladek's autobiography is, in the words of the authors, an "exclusively scientific, not historical" document. The personality of Wladek is "entirely insignificant from the point of view of the cultural development of Polish society, since he is a typical representative of the culturally passive mass." This self-revelatory life-history of 312 pages is vivid, detailed, and absorbing in the interest it holds for the general reader as well as for the student. It is this document, taken with the introduction to it, which will have the greatest importance for the social psychologist.

The University of Texas


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