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Created: October 14, 2001
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Florian Znaniecki Florian Znaniecki

Review and Essay by Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata
Part of Teaching Theory Series
Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata, October 2000. "Fair Use" encouraged.

This review is based on Florian Znaniecki Polish Philosophy Page. backup
W.I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki wrote the Polish Peasant in Europe and America. What do you think led them to that topic, especially given their concern with "the definition of the situation?" By highlighting the situation, the structural context, the cultural community in which the individual and local groups functioned, they were recognizing the interdependence of the individual with the social group and its normative expectations and constraints. Remember, this was in 1913, before postmodernism had even been thought of. Modernism had yet to see its triumph.

The Polish peasants in Europe and America had emigrated from Poland during times of crisis. They became exiles, but in 1913 we didn't yet have Edward Said's analysis of the exile. Mostly, they had to cope with the stress of losing the home they had always known and of adapting to a new language, new customs, and a world very different from the rural world from which they had come. So they offered a natural group for the study of the effects of social change on their lives and pursuits.

They also offered a natural group whose "definition of the situation" had changed, and whose need to define a new situation into which they could fit was essential. Thomas and Znaniecki describe the older people as managing the change, whereas the younger people were more likely to fall into deviance . How do they explain that? "Thomas and Znaniecki attributed this to social disorganisation, which they defined as the breakdown of effective social bonds, family and neighbourhood associations, as well as social controls in the community." That is, the older people were able to call on the rituals and structural contexts that they brought with them. But the young people were still in the process of being socialized, and the structural context in which the older people were wont to socialize them no longer existed in these urban European and American contexts. The process of socialization to old country ideals and patterns thus broke down when the situation was redefined to one tht did not fit with those ideals and patterns.

Although I am clearly reinterpreting here, with an eye to postmodernism, the process of breakdown in socialization through immigration was recognized by Thomas and Znaniecki in 1913. Compare this to another simplified explanation at the Hewett School in the UK:

  • Social Disorganisation Scroll through this brief introduction explaining how the theory of social disorganisation grew out of the Chicago School of Sociology, with the special influence of W.I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki and "the definition of the situation." backup



    Discussion Topics

    1. How do Thomas and Znaniecki explain the generation gap in successful adaptation of the Polish peasant?
    2. Do we carry structural context from our culture with us when we immigrate? How is that illustrated by this example?



      Related References

    3. Eli Zaretsky Vita New School University. Scroll down to publications for references to Znaniecki.

    4. Social Disorganisation Brief introduction explaining how the theory of social disorganisation grew out of the Chicago School of Sociology, with the special influence of W.I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki and "the definition of the situation."