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Prominent Poles

Florian Witold Znaniecki , Polish-American philosopher, sociologist.

Photo of Florian Znaniecki, sociologist

Born:  January 15, 1882, Świetniki, Prussian partition of Poland (presently Poland)

Died:  March 23, 1958, Champaign, Illinois, USA

Summary. Encyclopedia Britannica: “Polish-American sociologist whose theoretical and methodological work helped make sociology a distinct academic discipline. He was a pioneer in the field of empirical investigation and was noted as an authority on Polish peasant culture… “ He was the 44th President of the American Sociological Association and the founder of academic sociology studies in Poland. He gained international fame as the co-author with William I. Thomas of The Polish Peasant in Europe and America 1918-1920, considered the foundation of modern empirical sociology and humanist sociology.

Early days. Florian Witold Znaniecki was born in a noble family in Swiatniki near Wloclawek From his earliest years he displayed an unusual interest in literature and philosophy. Some of his poetic verses were published. His career as a student of the Warsaw University was short; after few months he was expelled because of participation in a student's protest against Russian administration. From 1903 to 1909 Znaniecki studied literature, philosophy, pedagogic and sociology in the universities of Geneva, Zurich and of Paris where he became increasingly interested in sociology and attended lectures and seminars conductesd by such professors as Rauh, Durkheim, Lalande, Levy-Bruhl and Belot. He graduated in philosophy in Jagiellonian University in Cracow and in 1910, he received a Ph.D. on the basis of the dissertation entitled “The problem of Values in Philosophy. “

Professional career. In Warsaw he took up an administrative job as a director of the Polish Emigrants' Protective Association and in this capacity Znaniecki met in 1913 with W. I. Thomas who had just started a wide empirical project concerning the European emigrants in the USA. Thomas arranged an appointment for Znaniecki at the University of Chicago, and there they worked together on the study of Polish emigrants, which came out in five volumes in 1918-1920 under the title The Polish Peasant in Europe and America, today the classic work in sociology. To last days of his life he worked on his opus magnum, the synthetic volume on Systematic Sociology, which, incomplete, was published posthumously by his daughter (Helen Lopata-Znaniecki) under the title Social Relations and Social Role: The Unfinished Sociology (1965). Znaniecki came to Chicago, USA in 1914 and returned to Poland in 1920 to accept the first Polish chair in sociology at the University of Poznań. There he organized the Polish Sociological Institute and began publishing The Polish Sociological Review . Keeping in touch with American sociologists, he lectured at Columbia University in New York in 1932-1934 and during the summer of 1939. The start of WW II prevented his return to Poland. He then moved to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he taught since 1940 until his death, deciding not to return after the war to the communist Poland. Iin 1953 he was elected the President of American Sociological Association. See: American Sociological Review, October 1954, Vol 19, No 5, pp 519-524.

Achievements. Florian Znaniecki characterized the world as caught within two contrary modes of reflection; these were idealism and realism. Znaniecki proposed a third way, which he labeled culturalism. Znaniecki's culturalism is one of the ideas that founded modern sociological views of antipositivism. According to the culturalist perspective, sociology should deal with the affects of culture, as sociology is a study of human meaning and subsequently dualistic with a locus of empirical reality. In 1934 he formulated the principle of analytic induction, designed to identify univeral propositions and causal laws. He contrasted it with enumerative research, which provided mere correlations and could not account for exceptions in statistical relationships. Znaniecki proposed that social phenomena should be treated as active or as potential subjects of one's actions (humanist principle). According to this principle, the individual's experiences and ideas are of utmost importance and the sociologist should study reality as a social actor (subjectively), not as an independent observer (objectively). As one of the first sociologists, he started analyzing personal documents like letters, autobiographies, diaries and similar items.
According to Znaniecki, sociology should analyze social relations, which are composed of values. Their basic element is that of human beings. He recognized four types of social relations:
• social acts - the most simple, like greeting or pleading, each composed of elements like: people, tools, subjects, methods, results
• social relations - need at least two people and a platform, like privilege or obligation
• social group - any group which some people recognize as a separate entity,
• social personalities - which are created under influence of social movements
Znaniecki also defined four types of character and personality:
• the humorous man - develops among those who have much time, treats work as fun
• the working man - develops among the working class social class, treats work as a life necessity
• the well-behaved man- develops among the intelligentsia social class
• the deviant man - easily distinguishable from the others, not always in a negative perspective (he can be a genius or a criminal)
In America 1954 Znaniecki acquired considerable status in the academic circles; in Poland whereas, until late years 50s, his sociology was condemned by communist party as "bourgeois", conservative thus emarginated. Now, in his homeland, Florian Znaniecki is largely reconsidered not only as an eminent figure of Polish sociology but also as a philosopher.

Main source:
This article uses, among others, material from the Wikipedia article "Florian Znaniecki" licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. :

Other sources:
Polish Philosophy Page: Coniglione and Betti
Encyclopedia Britannica
Elsbieta Halas (also: references)

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