Social Attitudes

Group Crises Produced by Voluntary Undertakings

Florian Znaniecki
Professor of Sociology, University of Poznan

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WILLIAM I. THOMAS defines group crises as "incidents in group life which interrupt the flow of habit and give rise to changed conditions of consciousness and practice." [1]

The types of crisis he takes into account are those brought on by: (I) sudden external occurrences which are new or not adequately provided against; (2) important incidents of individual life, like birth, puberty, and death; (3) conflicts of interest between individuals and between the individual and group habits.

We used this conception of group crisis in The Polish Peasant in Europe and America in our analysis of changes occurring in the peasant family, community, village, and parish in Europe. There, indeed, the crisis was always brought about either by external occurrences (sometimes by the activities of other classes) or by important or abnormal happenings in the life or behavior of individual members.

Professor Charles Ellwood in Cultural Evolution (Chapter III) adopts the concept of "crisis" formulated by Thomas in his Source Book for Social Origins. The origin of crisis is not discussed, but from the whole context it is clear that Ellwood implicitly assumes that the crisis is induced only by unintended disturbances of settled conditions and that it always begins with a partial loss of control over those conditions. Originally, reflection, invention, and initiative manifested themselves only after the occurrence of the disturbance in attempts

( 266) to regain the lost control; but with the progress of civilization, the crisis is often foreseen and means of regaining control planned in advance. It seems to me, however, that in the course of his work Ellwood goes beyond the bounds of this conception.

And, indeed, I myself believe that the concept of group crisis is one of the few heuristic ideas which are applicable to all important changes of group life. But in order to apply it beyond the field for which it was originally worked out it should be developed and supplemented in some respects. Thomas formulated his definition with reference to such forms of social organization and methods of social reflection as are found in lower societies and lower classes of cultured societies, i.e., where social groups are founded on old, half-sacred traditions and where environment and internal composition until recent times changed very slowly. These were the groups he was studying at the time, and their crises were adequately explicable with the help of his definition. But whoever wishes to use the same methodical instrument in studying groups on a higher level of social and intellectual culture must add to it certain parts that its creator did not require for his purposes.

In civilized society, groups are not only subjected to crises, but voluntarily bring crises upon themselves by undertaking new tasks which they need not have undertaken and which no group would undertake if it aimed merely to solve satisfactorily the situations it meets in performing its usual functions. Speaking in terms of "control," the crisis does not begin with a loss of control which is to be recovered by change of methods, but with an attempt to gain more control or to extend its range beyond the existing limits.

The greater share of reflection, initiative, and invention, which is a characteristic feature of higher as compared with lower societies, is not manifested solely in foreseeing and forestalling crises, but in producing them, either for purposes of group development or for other, wider reasons. When the United States went into the World War, it was obviously not because German submarines interfered with the free movement of American citizens and goods-though this furnished the immediate pretext and a basis for war propaganda-nor because the American nation seriously feared German inter-

(267) -ference in the actual domain of its control and wished to forestall it. For the financial leaders entering the war was a means of extending the range of economic control over Europe; in the eyes of the nation, inspired by its spiritual leaders, it was a campaign for the triumph of American political and moral ideals, which was prolonged for several years after the war by peaceful propaganda and altruistic assistance.

Wherefore, in studying group crises in civilized society, we must add to the three main types of crises embraced by Thomas's definition a fourth type: crises resulting from the voluntary acceptance of a new common task which is not necessitated by any previous or foreseen disturbance of the normal functions of the group, but which involves an extension of these functions.


I happen to be engaged at the present time in studying a particular complex of social groups which has undertaken a new and (from their point of view) very important task. Briefly stated, the case is this: In 1925 the idea became current in Polish circles to organize a National Exhibition in 1929 in order to show the work which had been accomplished in the ten years following the reestablishment of the Polish State. Warsaw, as the capital, wished to undertake this task, but it had too many other problems on its hands. Poznan was in a better situation; moreover, in the buildings erected for the yearly International Fair, it possessed a nucleus of the necessary technical equipment. Therefore, on the initiative of this city, it was decided (in 1926) that the Exhibition should take place within its precincts. The city expected that the task thus voluntarily undertaken would be performed mainly by its own efforts, though with some assistance from the State and other cities. This would have been, of course, a very great achievement for a city of 240,000 inhabitants.

In June, 1928, the Polish Sociological Institute in Poznan obtained some funds from the city for the purpose of studying the influence of this undertaking upon the city and its population. Though not yet complete, the materials collected by my

(268) self and my three assistants are sufficient to characterize the crisis which resulted directly from this undertaking.[2]

We began, of course, with an analysis of the exceedingly involved social complex which a modern city presents, for it was obviously impossible to reach any exact scientific conclusions by observing the effects of the new task upon the total concrete collectivity of persons assembled within the precincts of the city. We discovered three quite distinct kinds of groups which this collectivity maintains in existence and to which its members severally belong.

(a) The municipality of Poznan as an organized territorial group. This group is in the main autonomous, though acting under the sanction and control of the State; in some respects it functions as a part of the State, having some minor State activities delegated to it. Its social structure is as follows The majority of the persons actually residing in Poznan, i.e., all those viewed as permanent inhabitants (including those temporarily absent), are members of the municipality, or citizens. Inhabitants of the city who are not permanent residents are considered visitors, whose subjection to the municipal group and participation in the life of the group are necessarily much more limited. The common activities of the municipal group have a material foundation in the territory of the city which constitutes the field of physical control exercised by the group. The main center from which physical control radiates is the City Hall; it is also a center of physical convergence for members, to which they come or address their mail in any contacts they may have with the highest authorities of the municipal group. Secondary centers of physical control and convergence are the various offices and business buildings in which special public functions of the municipal group are transacted. These centers taken together constitute the main instruments for municipal activity and represent the collective property of the group. The latter owns, in addition, all the streets, public places, parks, a number of lots and apartment houses, most of the machinery for keeping up and developing its property, part of the street-car system, etc. Besides the material field of control and physical instruments, the

(269) municipal group has also a spiritual field o f control and spiritual instruments o f common life, which are, however, much less important; these are chiefly historical memories and traditions of the group, and prominent personalities, living and dead, the "group heroes" who are viewed as its spiritual property. The permanent center o f mental convergence for its members is the name and idea of Poznan; the leading group hero at present is the President of the City, Mr. Ratajski.

The organization of the municipal group consists in the following system of institutions:

The elective City Council as a kind of legislative assembly and supreme authority for all those matters in which the city functions autonomously.

The Magistracy, or highest executive body, headed by the City President, who is elected by the city, subject to confirmation by the State. A number of special committees are subordinated to the Magistracy and composed chiefly of members of the latter, but with the participation of some prominent private citizens as representatives of the general population. Besides these, some private citizens with the sanction of the Magistracy, act as local directors of poor relief, others as local arbitrators in certain minor dissensions between citizens and the municipal institutions.

The executive functions of the Magistracy are performed with the help of permanent officials, employees hired by special contracts, and physical workers. This entire executive body is subdivided into the following departments

Central Office for unclassified affairs and for all matters coming under the direct control of the highest executive body.

Administrative Department, acting in lieu of the State administration in matters left to communal control, e.g., control of industry and trade from the point of view of public security and morals; supervision of the guilds (mere remnants of the old guilds which have been transformed into voluntary associations) ; mediation in disputes between individuals and State insurance institutions.

Taxation Department.

Financial Department, including a City Bank.

Department of Building Police, controlling all matters con-

( 270) -cerning private and public buildings with regard to safety, hygiene, and aesthetics.

Department for the Erection and Repair of Municipal Buildings Serving Public Purposes.

Department for the Economic Management of All Buildings Belonging to the Municipality.

Department for City Expansion, whose main function at present is to remedy the dearth of living apartments. With the help of funds borrowed for this purpose from the State and from other sources, it builds city tenement houses and lends money to private citizens for building and repairing tenement houses.

Surveying Department.

Department for the Laying and Upkeep of Streets (including sewer, gas, and water pipes).

Department of Public Gardens.,

Municipal Police, controlling the behavior of inhabitants as it affects public order within the city. Crimes fall under the jurisdiction of the State police.

Various departments managing the different municipal enterprises: water-works, gas, electricity, stock-yards, incinerator, market-halls, etc.

Department of Public Health.

School Department.

Poor Relief Department.

Theatrical Department.

Department of Statistics and City History.

Department for Registration of Births, Deaths, and Marriages.

The entire municipal machinery of government employs about 650 permanent or temporary mental workers (councillors, managers, intendants, secretaries, clerks, etc.), about 400 physical workers, and from 150 to Zoo citizens acting without remuneration as members of committees, deputies, arbitrators, local directors of poor relief, etc. -- altogether from 1,200 to 1,250 persons, i.e., about .5 per cent of the inhabitants of Poznan.

In the life of the ordinary citizen the city plays a considerable part, at least with regard to the quantity of his activities which it influences positively or negatively. He drinks city

(291) water; uses city gas in his kitchen and bathroom; city electricity gives him light; he walks on city streets and rides in city trams; the city insures the wholesomeness of the food he buys; whatever peace, cleanliness, and order there is in his physical environment he owes to the city. The latter also furnishes him recreation in its parks, zoological and botanical gardens, sporting grounds, and beaches; aesthetic enjoyment through the opera, dramatic theater, museums, architectural and sculptural monuments. If he is sick, he goes to the city hospital or dispensary; his children drink city milk, and later go to city schools. If he is poor, the city grants him positive assistance or a loan through the city pawnshop. If he wishes to build a house, he may obtain a loan from the city on a mortgage of the house. In a negative way, the city police regulates and often hampers his behavior in public places; the administrative department makes him submit to its control in business; the building police controls many of his activities as house-owner, tenant, house-agent, building-contractor, shopkeeper, etc. The negative interference, however, is much less than the positive contribution to his welfare.

On the other hand, the active participation of the ordinary citizen in the life of the municipality is, sociologically speaking, only slight and mostly involuntary. His main function is to pay taxes if he owns real estate, articles of luxury, or has an income above a certain minimum, and to pay the economic equivalent of the specific goods and services he receives-water, gas, electricity, admission to theaters or museums, etc. Paying this economic equivalent is, of course, not a social equivalent of the values which the citizen uses; it only furnishes the municipality with the necessary means to perform the collective activities productive of these values. Furthermore, if the citizen owns real property, he is forced to contribute actively to the aesthetic aspect and hygienic well-being of the city by keeping his property in the condition required by the municipal authorities. Free and voluntary participation is reduced to share in elections, interest in spiritual values of the group, eventual gifts that may be presented (there have been grants of lands and buildings to the city), and suggestions offered directly or through the medium of the public opinion of the community. The citizen cannot actually control the activities of the munici-

(292) -pality either individually or as a member of a political party, for the political parties to which the inhabitants of Poznan belong are primarily concerned with the life of the State group, and, moreover, the municipality consciously tends to prevent them from exercising any recognized influence upon its autonomous affairs. There are no purely local parties aiming to direct the municipal group.

Notwithstanding the large role played by the municipality in the life of its citizens, very little interest in its affairs is shown by the general public, as is proved by two facts. Out of 1,000 letters addressed by citizens to the central office of City Hall, only q. bear on matters of public concern, and half of these are anonymous. A public questionnaire issued by the Sociological Institute "What Does the City of Poznan Mean to You?" brought only 26 answers, i.e., only about one inhabitant in 10,000 answered it, though the best answers are to receive rather high prizes. A similar questionnaire on the State or the nation would undoubtedly have been answered by hundreds, if not thousands. The direct positive influence exercised by the State upon the life of an average inhabitant of Poznan is smaller than that of the municipality; while, on the other hand, the State interferes more with his freedom and exacts larger taxes and greater services. But because the citizen as member of his party tends to cooperate in controlling and directing the State, State problems thrill him as no municipal problems can. The national group influences the spiritual life of its members through the common language, literature, art, historical traditions, etc., but gives them no material values; its negative control, exercised chiefly through public opinion, is stricter than that of the State or any other group, except the Church. Nevertheless, being based entirely on voluntary participation, the national group provokes a sublimated interest even more powerful than the excitement of State politics and is not to be compared with the mild and prosaic interest in the municipality.

(b) The society of Poznan, as distinct from the municipality, on the one hand, the city community, on the other hand, is constituted by the many hundreds of various non-territorial groups of which city inhabitants are members. These groups must be treated as one complex society for two reasons. First,

(293) they have their physical centers of convergence--meeting-places and offices-on city territory, and some of their activities are connected with municipal activities; they are, therefore, in some ways influenced and controlled by the municipality. Secondly, they are objects of interest to the community of Poznan, which affects their behavior through the medium of public opinion.

No complete survey of these groups has been attempted, but they may be roughly divided into: families; congenial groups; productive (factory, workshop, commercial, banking) groups; trade, class, and professional groups for promotion of common interests; cultural groups for the development of special branches of cultural life-scientific, literary, artistic, technical; societies for popular welfare and education; "institutional groups," i.e., groups which are also institutions of the State or the Church, as the army corps, the University and other State schools, the Archbishopric, the parishes. Besides the latter, many of these groups are parts or autonomous branches of wider groups extending far beyond the city.

(c) The third social complex is the "community," i.e., the vaguely organized plurality of individuals inhabiting the territory of Poznan and its close neighborhood, taken not in their whole concrete life, but merely with regard to their participation in the formation of a unified public opinion and to the control which this opinion exercises upon them. The one and only community institution in Poznan is the newspaper. The community possesses a permanent center of physical convergence in the area where the business of the city concentrates, and changing subsidiary centers in recreation areas. Its centers of mental convergence are those prominent persons, groups, and institutions that everybody in the community knows either by direct social contact or by hearsay. Within this community are many smaller communities, partly separated either in space (districts) or by divisions of class, occupation, religion, nationality. These have also centers of physical convergence (market-Places, churches, theaters, factories, restaurants, etc.), and centers of mental convergence in persons, groups, and institutions that interest only the limited public in question.

Now, when the idea of organizing the National Exhibition

( 294) in Poznan became widespread, any one of these three group complexes might have taken the initiative and assumed the leading r˘le. The task required not so much material power as moral and intellectual energy; it was a question of enlisting the co÷peration and organizing the results of the efforts of all those groups composing Polish society which were to participate, or help their members participate, in exhibiting the products (or symbolic presentations) of the nation's cultural activity.

The society of Poznan possessed important sources of power in the groups-commercial, industrial, and financial-which form parts of nation-wide associations. It was these groups which initiated five or six years ago the plan of international fairs (though its realization for various reasons passed out of their hands). By combining among themselves they could have constituted an efficient social body.

The community of Poznan likewise could have undertaken the new task. Though unfit in its present loose condition, it was quite able to evolve a new institution especially for the purpose, which by including all the best qualified cultural leaders might have attained the highest possible moral and intellectual level. The community had already shown its ability to act; in 1918, after the armistice, it organized a troop of volunteers, drove out of the city the Prussian garrison, took possession of all State property, changed the municipal administrative body, with the assistance of the province organized a provisional government of Great Poland and Pomerania, regulated finances, created a school system (including a university), a railroad administration, etc., all of which was later handed over to the Polish State.

But neither Poznan society nor the Poznan community made any attempt to assume the leadership in organizing the Exhibition. Such a task would have required great efforts and a deep social reorganization of the groups involved, whereas both Poznan society and the Poznan community had become accustomed to rely upon the municipality for most matters Concerning the city as a whole. The municipality had a strong and efficient organization, the disposal of a large common property (including the grounds on which the Exhibition was to be located), and ready means of obtaining additional funds;

(295) moreover-and this was probably the decisive point-there were many precedents of municipalities organizing exhibitions.

It was, therefore, the municipality which, acting through its representative and executive bodies, on the initiative of its President agreed (in 1926) to arrange the Exhibition in Poznan. Later, other Poznan groups assumed minor parts in connection with the main enterprise. Thus, of all the groups which could have undertaken the new task, the one which assumed it, was that wherein the performance apparently demanded the least effort and the smallest disturbance of its established system. Such an outcome is very general in deliberations and discussions concerning some new enterprise in which a number of groups are interested, but it usually appears in a disguised shape, teleologically rationalized thus: let that group undertake the task (or take the leadership) which is best fitted to perform it. On this plea so many new tasks in modern society, particularly in continental Europe, are put upon the State. Whereas the circumstance that a group is fitted by its organization, material power, and previous habits to perform the new task with less effort and disturbance for itself than other groups is no guarantee of efficiency from the point of view of those standards of success which are formulated when the task is set, though it usually prevents a complete failure. The well-known superiority of private initiative, when successful, over State initiative in such matters as technical and economic enterprise, education, religion, charity, art, and science illustrates this point.

Every one of the Poznan groups that eventually accepted a share in preparing the Exhibition thereby voluntarily brought a crisis upon itself. We cannot follow each crisis in all its details, but we may outline briefly the most important stages of the crises passed through by certain of the groups we have been studying, namely: (a) the municipality; (b) a group typical of those composing Poznan society; (c) the Poznan community.

Three stages can be distinguished in the crisis of the municipal group; but because of the planful character of the enterprise, involving foresight of future difficulties, these stages partly overlap in time.

First Stage. The municipality tried to exclude from its

(296) task everything which might produce a deeper disturbance of its normal functions, by entrusting it to individuals and other groups. For preliminary planning, collecting subscriptions, and insuring the active cooperation of other groups-the State, other cities, agricultural, commercial, and industrial associations-a special committee was founded, entirely outside the municipal body. To this committee the municipality simply delegated a few members of the Council and the Magistracy; the committee elected as its chairman the President of the City, not because of his public function, but because he had individually acted as the chief promoter of the Exhibition. The activities of the city delegates on the committee were not supposed to interfere in any way with their usual functions in the city government, but to be merely superadded to them. At the same time the municipality voted one million zloty in four installments as subscription to the cost of the Exhibition and later agreed to cover a certain part of the expected deficit. This is much more than any other single group is doing (except the State), but Poznan is to reap many benefits from the Exhibition; moreover, the subscription is less than 1 per cent of the usual city budget and can be covered without any trouble by extraordinary sources of income.

The committee then became legally incorporated. Between the new corporation and the municipality an agreement was reached, according to which the entire technical preparation and management of the Exhibition fall to the share of the corporation. The municipality took upon itself the task of

(1) preparing the grounds on which the Exhibition is to stand (leveling, laying sewers, water and gas pipes, electric installation, flower and grass decoration) ; (2) loaning such city buildings as are found on the grounds (International Fair buildings, school houses) ; (3) erecting some new buildings which, after serving the purposes of the Exhibition, will return to the city for its own permanent use; (4) assuring proper access to the Exhibition grounds; (5) participating as exhibitor in a pavilion reserved for the purpose.

Thus, the actual task of the municipality was reduced (except for the last point) to such functions as the municipality performs in the course of its normal life.

Second Stage. However, even after this reduction the task

(277) still proved considerable; for, in addition to what had to be done on the grounds to make the Exhibition possible, many improvements and facilities appeared desirable, even necessary, throughout the city but particularly in the neighborhood of the Exhibition grounds, which have been rather neglected up to now. These were chiefly motivated by the desire to have the city appear in the best possible light in the eyes of the expected visitors and thus to raise its prestige and business opportunities.

All these new enterprises and improvements were treated as merely a hastening of the normal development of the city involving no new functions, but simply a quantitative extension of its old functions. This is clearly shown in the city budget. In connection with the Exhibition the total budget has been considerably increased: whereas in 1924, it was about $3,500,000 in 1927 it rose to $5,000,000, and in 1928 to $9,000,000 (79,731,328 zloty; of these, 38,396,000 "extraordinary expenses"). The striking feature of the budget for 1928-9 is that except for 300,000 zloty, an installment of the subscription pledged for the Exhibition, and 175,000 zloty for the cost of preparing the exhibits of municipal institutions, no mention whatever is made of the Exhibition. All the increased expense is brought under the various lines of city development which have already been figuring in the budget, though to a smaller degree. As a matter of fact, 10,000,000 zloty are to be spent in direct connection with the Exhibition; the remainder of the "extraordinary expenses" and a large proportion of the "ordinary expenses" are indirectly connected with it. But each item is treated as a mere addition to something which was being done before. A hall is being built for the Exhibition; it is listed as "a new hall for the Poznan Yearly International Fair." A big hotel erected on the Exhibition grounds is "a new municipal tenement house." Two other new buildings are destined for the School of Commerce and the Institute of Physical Education, respectively; both were to be constructed some time somewhere, but the time has been hastened and the place adapted to the needs of the Exhibition The whole district has had its old streets repaired and new ones laid: this should have been done, anyway; likewise the aesthetic improvement of the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Park and the Zoological Garden, which happen to adjoin the Exhibition grounds.

(278) New water-works and a new electric power building are raised at a great cost several years sooner than they would have been otherwise; and so on. All this is treated, not as part of a new task, but as increasing the rate of the normal development of the city. These expenses are to be covered in the least disturbing way: by long-term loans to be repaid from the expected increase in the revenues of the municipality.

However, even viewed as merely quantitative extension of normal city development, these undertakings raised the problem, whence was the municipality to draw the new social forces which they required? Again, the idea was not to disturb the existing system. Apart from entrusting portions of the task to individuals and groups (private contractors) outside of the municipality, as in the first stage, most of the necessary work was simply performed by the municipal functionaries over and above their usual activities. Such numerical growth of the executive body as took place, remained within the limits of the existing organization; and its rate was no faster than in periods of normal city development.

For instance, the composition of the Magistracy remained the same, but it was obliged to meet twice as often as before. No additions were made to the surveying department, although its work increased for a time nearly 100 per cent; the employees simply worked three hours a day longer than usual. The departments of public buildings and of building police had a few employees added to their respective staffs, but no more than in other years, as if the increase in business were no more than usual. The only marked growth of staff is planned for the city police who, in connection with the expected rush of traffic during the Exhibition, are reorganizing the traffic regulations. But even this is in the line of normal development and is only hastened by the Exhibition.

Third Stage. In order to discharge its task efficiently, the municipality has been led to assume qualitatively new functions which could neither be delegated to outside individuals or groups nor be performed within the limits of its existing system. For some of these new temporary institutions have been created without changing the old institutions; while for others the municipality is relying on the private activities of its citizens, which it means to control and supplement.


For instance, one of the tasks undertaken by the municipality is to exhibit the results of the activity of its various departments-gardening, electric, gas, water-works, and statistics. Within each institution the preparations for this task are being conducted in accordance with the principles characterizing the second stage of the crisis: the staff must make additional efforts. But a special commission with a separate office is temporarily established to co÷rdinate these efforts and arrange the city pavilion at the Exhibition.

The municipality has been obliged to organize proper communication with the grounds of the Exhibition. It also feels responsible for the food supply in the city while the Exhibition lasts. To solve these two problems it relies mainly on private enterprise, but plans to supervise it thoroughly. No attempt is being made to concentrate in the hands of the city the business of supplying food (like water, gas, and electricity), nor to appropriate cabs and autobuses as auxiliaries to the street-car service. Such afar-reaching extension of group control in new directions would appear unjustifiable in view of the fact that the critical conditions are to be merely temporary. Nor is there any voluntary active collaboration between the group and individual entrepreneurs: this would be a complete departure (though not without some precedents) from the formal type of relations established between citizens and the municipality, in which the citizens are essentially passive. Though the municipality is dependent for the success of its tasks on the exertions of the citizens, it plans merely to keep a record of what is being done by private persons in order to control it by rules and restrictions (like other private activities which affect public interests) and to be prepared for intervention in collaboration with the Exhibition corporation whenever this seems indispensable.

The most important new function is that of finding rooms for the 50,000 visitors expected daily. This has been partly achieved in direct connection with the Exhibition by building new hotels which ire to be transformed later into tenement houses. Furthermore, the municipality will turn its public school buildings into rooming-houses for collective excursions, in consequence of which the schools must be closed on May 1st. But all this is still not enough. Therefore, an appeal has been

(280) made to all citizens to register available rooms with a committee (composed of representatives of the municipality and of the Exhibition corporation) which has been created to provide visitors with living accommodations. The committee will investigate and classify all rooms to be let, fixing the price according to the class; it will also keep control over their hygienic and aesthetic conditions. Though not as high as if private interests had free play, the prices allowed are sufficiently high, compared with normal rents, to induce citizens to take into their homes these transient guests, wherever possible. Here also we see no active collaboration between the individual and the group, but merely group regulation of private activities on which it is dependent for the performance of its task.

As a typical instance of a group belonging to the Poznan society and affected by the Exhibition, let us take the Union of Merchants' Associations. Although the Union has associated groups in many other cities, its Poznan branch is the liveliest, and its headquarters are located in Poznan for the purposes of the yearly International Fair and now of the National Exhibition.

Each of the many small associations of the Union is composed of local (wholesale and retail) merchants dealing in some particular line of commerce, and each has an executive body of its own. The highest authority of the Union is the general assembly of representatives from the particular associations; a "Council" (board of directors) acts as executive and maintains an office at the head of which stands a "Director" (head manager). The aim of both the particular associations and the Union is to foster the common interests of members by discovering and pointing out to them favorable commercial opportunities, warning them of dangers, initiating and directing common political action tending to influence legislation, etc. Neither the particular associations nor the Union are meant to organize collective economic enterprises.

The Union differs from the municipality not only as to complexity of organization and degree of material power, but more strikingly still with regard to the basis of group unity and the relation between the group and its members. The municipality as territorial group is derived from the physical fact of people living crowded together: its functions are the out-

(281) -come of certain needs arising from this fact of spatial agglomeration. The Union is a teleological group founded on the mental fact of people having certain similar purposes: its functions result from the agreement of these people to collaborate in some matters connected with these purposes. The part which the Union plays in the life of its members is much smaller than that of the municipality, for the domain in which they have agreed to co÷perate is very limited with regard to its personal significance as compared with the sphere of interests involved in the fact of living in the midst of a big spatial agglomeration of people. On the other hand, the importance of the individual for the common life of the Union is much greater than that of a citizen for the life of the municipality, since the Union relies almost exclusively on voluntary cooperation ; 'coercion through State institutions is practically never employed in order to force unwilling members to perform neglected duties or abstain from disturbances, because the group in such extremities usually prefers to exclude the unruly member. It was a surprise, therefore, to find that in spite of these fundamental differences the crisis of the Union of Merchants' Associations up to a certain point was almost completely identical to that of the municipality.

The Union undertook the task of preparing that part of the Exhibition which related to national commerce; and since Poznan was the headquarters for this purpose, the Poznan branch naturally assumed the leadership. The crisis brought on by this undertaking shows the same stages as the crisis of the municipality. At first, the Union shifted the task onto the shoulders of the head manager, its chief promoter, and a special committee; but no disturbance of the normal functions of the group was allowed. This went so far that the Council at its meetings sometimes refused to discuss points concerning the Exhibition, even when they were suggested by the head manager. The second stage began when it was necessary to enlist the co÷peration of particular associations belonging to the Union. In interviews with executives of these associations, assistants of the Sociological Institute found that the preparations for the Exhibition were obviously considered as a mere quantitative extension of the normal development of these

(282) groups, a new and unusually important opportunity for the promotion of commercial enterprise.

Then came the third stage. The nature of the exhibits, the form in which they should be presented, their final arrangement had to be determined and controlled: this was a new function of the Union which could be neither entrusted entirely to the special committee nor performed by the particular associations in pursuance of their normal course of development. This stage of the crisis began with an open conflict. The Council on the advice of the special committee decided to allow individual merchants to participate privately in the Exhibition. The general assembly reversed this decision under the influence of the delegates of Poznan associations, who thought the plan dangerous for the Poznan merchants, because it would bring outside competition into the Poznan territory-the arguments used were of a less subjective character, naturally. A compromise was finally reached: private participation was to be allowed, but only under limitations and regulations imposed by the Union.

Thus far, the crisis of the Union exactly parallels that of the municipality. But, while the latter stopped at the third stage, the former has advanced a step further.

Fourth Stage. Heretofore, the Poznan branch of the Union acted as leader for the wider group; the crisis affected it more deeply than other branches, but was not confined to it. Now, however, not from the central authority nor from the authorities of the particular associations, but on the initiative of the members themselves appears a further evolution which affects exclusively the Poznan branch. Poznan merchants for the last fifty years, whether rightfully or not, have considered themselves superior on the whole to merchants of other Polish cities located in the formerly Russian and Austrian parts of Poland, as having had a long training in competition with German merchants (thought the most efficient in the world), as not "contaminated" by Jewish competition, and more accustomed to solidary action from their struggle against Prussian national oppression. Now, the Exhibition in which they are to take an active share will make them the "cynosure of all eyes," not only from Poland but also from abroad. A desire has developed not only to keep up their supposed reputation, but to raise

(283) it.. To do this, concerted action is obviously necessary, and to attain it the local merchants' associations ready at hand have been utilized. Uniform standards of individual behavior during the Exhibition are being worked out and imposed upon all members; advice and assistance will be offered wherever needed to obtain compliance with these standards. In addition, common local enterprises are being devised, particularly receptions for official or half-official bodies of visitors from other parts of the country and from abroad.

All this implies a fundamental change in the whole functional character of the group. A strong and coherent social purpose evolved independently of the official organization, and through social opinion the mass of members imposed this purpose upon the group. Thereby the latter became something more than it was before: its formally established static system of institutions was overshadowed by a new informal, dynamic social activity of the total body of members. And the relation between the individual and the group has been modified. Formerly an average merchant was only slightly interested in his association; one association was not much interested in the doings of another association unless they affected the Union as a whole; individual competition within each line of commerce and mutual indifference between separate lines prevented unity beyond the narrow field of aims for which the Union was organized. Now, every merchant feels himself a part of the whole Poznan merchant body, deeply interested in the doings of all the others, not only in his own, but also in other lines. And whereas, before his business was a private economic affair of his own, now it has become a matter of public concern for the social body to which he belongs. This entire functional change may or may not prove permanent; if it does, it will certainly lead to a complete formal reorganization of the Poznan branch of the Union.

The community of Poznan greeted the new task with joy as soon as it became known, but did not at first connect it with its own normal life. It could not fail to perceive that the Exhibition would eventually affect this life for a time, but its foresight remained rather vague and did not stir anyone up to present action. Since the preparations were undertaken by the municipality and the Exhibition Corporation, the com-

(284) -munity let them carry on their work as they pleased without even trying to control it by public opinion. In answers to the questionnaire mentioned above and published by the Sociological Institute in November 1928, the emphasis was put upon the significance of the Exhibition for the nation, rather than for the city. This was the first stage.

Gradually, however, the community became interested in the Exhibition as certain of its elements--social groups, well-known leaders, professional men, local workmen-were drawn into the work. A new field was thus opened for the positive and negative sanctions of public opinion; new centers of mental convergence were formed. Groups and individuals actively engaged in preparing for the Exhibition acquired importance in the eyes of the public. Though entrance upon the Exhibition grounds was forbidden to those who did not participate in the work, still the neighborhood became a minor center of physical convergence. All this, however, was merely a development of the normal functions of the community; the standards of public sanction remained unchanged. The supreme standards of the Poznan community is Polish national interest, more or less harmoniously combined for the majority with Catholic religious values. At this second stage the national standards were still applied almost exclusively by public opinion to the behavior of the people engaged in preparing the Exhibition. Thus, when the press resorted to arguments of economic self-interest in order to induce the building trades to abstain from strikes during the period preceding the Exhibition, the workmen at the trade-union meetings repudiated these arguments as worthless, but bound themselves nevertheless not to strike in view of the national importance they ascribed to the Exhibition.

Soon the community reached the third stage and was led to assume a new function as it gradually realized what the Exhibition might and would mean for Poznan. It was seen that, though the success of the Exhibition depended upon the public activities of those actually participating in its preparation, the private behavior of any inhabitant of Poznan or any Poznan group might in some degree affect, positively or negatively, its results for the city. Hence arose a lively interest of public opinion in such private matters as did not usually attract its

( 285) attention; and these matters were judged by a new standard--their effect on the heightened welfare and good reputation which the Exhibition should bring to Poznan. This new function was, however, merely superadded to the old functions and performed with the least possible effort.

At first the community did nothing but watch and judge. The influx of new elements-delegates, experts, immigrant workmen-who were invited or attracted by the works of the Exhibition Corporation called forth rather unfavorable comments. Particularly anxious is the community as to the possibility of an "invasion" of Jews from the former Congress Kingdom and Galicia. Next, all imperfections in the outward aspect of the city were carefully noted and improvements demanded.

This brings us to the fourth stage: just like the Union of Merchants' Associations, the community of Poznan has developed a powerful collective "reflected self." How will the city and its inhabitants appear in the eyes of the countless visitors from all Poland, but particularly to those from abroad? This is now the great concern of the community; everybody feels responsible for everybody else and wants to stir him into doing something for the prestige of the city. It is not a mere question of collective vanity, but has a deeper background. The prestige of Poznan is felt to be closely connected with the prestige of the new Poland. Poznan was for over a century under Prussian domination, and since the peace treaty the Prussian press has been trying to suggest that the condition of the Polish provinces taken away from Prussia has deteriorated under Polish rule. This has become a very sore point with the population of these provinces, particularly since it knows that it has given some food for such an opinion by the impatience with which it bore the economic crisis following the war and by the antagonism it often manifests towards the Warsaw government. Therefore, the community of Poznan wishes to show to all foreigners, especially to Germans, that Poznan, far from deteriorating; has greatly developed and improved during the last ten years and thus to demonstrate that it is better capable of cultural progress when free than when it was subjected to a foreign rule.

The growth of collective self-consciousness is producing a

( 286) functional change in the structure of the community. Instead of merely observing and appreciating what individuals and groups are doing spontaneously, public opinion now demands of them new initiative and more efficient co÷peration. An interesting means of stimulation has been devised: many newspapers have a regular column entitled "How does Poznan prepare for the Exhibition?" This column prints a rich variety of information furnished by readers with their names and addresses; any new idea put into action by some house-owner, hotel-keeper, shopkeeper, etc., is there chronicled, appraised, criticized, and followed up by imitations and improvements. This is undoubtedly the beginning of that kind of dynamic organization of leadership and following, that fluid but efficient collaboration of free workers, which is found fully developed in the domains of art, science, and philosophy. The community, which was merely a group for control, is thus changing into a group for co÷peration.


The conclusions which we have reached by a comparison of these three groups so widely different in structure may be stated as general hypotheses, since it is an obvious and indispensable postulate of scientific sociology that the effect which a definite cause will produce in a social group depends primarily on the structure of the group and only secondarily on such factors as racial composition, geographic environment, etc.

We have found that a group which has undertaken a new task passes regularly through a crisis, having four stages which follow one another in a definite order. The crisis may not reach the later stages-the crisis of the municipal group did not go beyond the third stage, at least at the time we concluded our research. And, on the other hand, there may be and probably are other stages which we have not had a chance to observe as yet.

First, the group which has undertaken the new task tries to have it performed outside of its own structure by drawing the necessary social forces from the superfluous personal activity of initiators and volunteers or from other groups. (This recalls the slogan popular in England after it entered the World

(287) War: "Business as usual," which meant "Let the government, the army, and the navy do it all.")

Secondly, the group incorporates the new task into the normal process of its development as a mere increase in the rate of this process; it reduces its task to functions qualitatively similar to those it has already been performing, though quantitatively more extensive. New social forces are obtained by drawing upon the superfluous personal activity of its functionaries or by enlisting new functionaries without change of organization. (This is similar to the second stage of the war in America: all state institutions had to do more than ever before, but nothing essentially different.)

Next, the group agrees to inevitable qualitative changes of its functions, but merely as external additions to the normal system which are not allowed to disturb this system. New social forces come into play, either in the shape of new special institutions with new functionaries or by making the private activity of members useful for the public task by control and regulation. (Third stage of the World War in America new institutions founded for war purposes; private enterprise, munition factories, etc., controlled and regulated; censorship of moral forces of the population.)

Finally, new forces spontaneously arising from the mass of members create new functions for the group and thus reorganize it functionally, though they leave unimpaired the formal organization. (The fourth stage in America was the rise of American nationalism at the end of the war and afterwards.)

We may add, not as a scientific hypothesis, but as a mere supposition that the next stage should be the formal reconstruction of the group in accordance with its functional reorganization. (In America this would mean a change of the United States Constitution.) Whether this stage will ever be reached or not depends upon the nature of the crisis.

What then is the nature of the crisis? Obviously, a cease less social conflict is going on, but it is none of the types of social conflict familiar to sociologists. It is not a conflict between the creative individual and the passive mass. Such a conflict, when it exists, precedes the acceptance of the task and the acceptance of the task signifies that the mass has followed

(288) the leader. In our instances though there were initiators, they met little, if any, opposition: their initiative was welcomed at once by their groups. Nor do we find any division within the group between a "conservative" party wishing to preserve the established system even at the cost of failing in the new task, and a "progressive," or "revolutionary," party desirous above all of success in the new task even at the cost of breaking up the established system. Individual members vary, indeed, as to the degree of their conservatism and progressiveness; but all, or nearly all, want the new task to succeed, and practically everyone accepts the old system. The few subnormal retrogrades or revolted bohemians can be easily dealt with.

The conflict is waged between the group as a superindividual structure and the generality of its individual members which forms the basis of this structure. The group as superindividual structure is constituted entirely by those, but only those, activities and values of its members which have a public character within this group, i.e., which tend to keep it in existence as Ó closed objective system, in spite of any outside or inside perturbations, and give it an objective content and meaning independent of subjective personal variations. But no group in modern society completely absorbs the personalities of its members; no modern individual is nothing but a member of some particular group. Hence the possibility of conflict. Lower societies have no such conflicts because they do absorb their members, if not completely, at least sufficiently to leave place for nothing but reactions to external disturbances and individual leadership or revolt.

When a group undertakes a new task, it does so because its members have imposed this task upon it; they as individuals incompletely absorbed by the group have really undertaken something for the group which was not yet included in its structure and must now be introduced into this structure. But the structure has an objective existence, it is a real vital system (not a mere sum of activities and values), which no individual or any number of individuals can modify without a struggle, though it owes its existence to their activities and values. Opposition to change has its source within the personality of every member, though in some it is stronger than in others. Psychologically speaking, this source lies in the "de-

(289) -sire for stability" embodied in everyone's past and present activities and expressed in efforts to keep the structure of the group such as it is and has been. There is a psychological conflict between this desire for stability and the "desire for new experience" which leads every member to wish to co÷perate with the group in the fulfilment of the new task. However, the social conflict is not reducible to the agglomeration of these individual psychological conflicts, for the desire for new experience of each member is opposed not only to his own desire for stability but also to the structure of the group as objective expression of the desire for stability of all the other members; and his desire for stability is opposed not only to his own desire for new experience, but also to the new task as common manifestation of the desire for new experience of all other members.

The intensity of the crisis depends on the relative importance of the changes which the new task seems to require. The duration of the crisis provoked by a given new task depends on the relative power of resistance of the group structure as against the new social forces which the group members bring to bear upon it. In groups based on voluntary co÷peration, allowing free play to individual initiative, the conflict proceeds further than in groups where co÷peration is enforced. On the other hand, in voluntary groups the conflict is less intense, for the structure is more elastic and allows more for novelty.


Adams, Brooks, The Theory of Social Revolutions New York, 1913. Le Bon, G., The Psychology of Revolution, New York, 1913.

Ogburn, W. F., Social Change, New York, 1922.

Park, R. E., and Burgess, E. W., Introduction to the Science of Sociology, Chaps. XIII and XIV, Chicago, 1924.

Park R. E., and Miller, H. A., Old World Traits Transplanted, New York, 1921.

Patrick, G. T. W., The Psychology o f Social Reconstruction, Boston, 1920.

Prince, Samuel H., "Catastrophe and Social Change-Based upon a Sociological Study 6f the Halifax Disaster," Columbia University Studies in History, Economics and Public Law, 1920, Vol. XCIV.

Thomas, W. I. "The Province of Social Psychology," American Journal of Sociology, 1904, Vol. X, pp. 445-55.

Thomas, W. I., Source Book for Social Origins, Boston, 1909.


Thomas, W. I., The Unadjusted Girl, Boston, 1923.

Young, Kimball, Source Book for Social Psychology, Chap. V, especially pp. 81-94, New York, 1927.

Young, Kimball, Social Psychology, Chap. II, especially pp. 25-27, New York, 1930.

Znaniecki, F., The Laws of Social Psychology, Chicago, 1925.


  1. Quoted by Kimball Young in his Source Book for Social Psychology, 1927, pp. 81-83.
  2. Szczurkiewicz, Piotrowski, and Okinski. I am indebted to them for many suggestions bearing on the subject of this paper.

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