Polish and Eastern European Sociology

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There is no doubt that central and eastern European sociologies have similar intellectual, historical, and political roots and can be treated as one block, in contrast to western European sociologies, which are not characterized by uniformity (Nedelmann and Sztompka 1993). This holds true especially for the postwar period in the development of eastern European sociologies. The only exception to this pattern is Polish sociology, which is why we analyze the history and current state of Polish sociology separately. In this brief analysis of central and eastern European sociology we focus on Russian, Hungarian, Czech, Bulgarian, and Rumanian sociologies (see Kolaja and Das 1988; Genov 1989; Keen and Mucha 1994).

Overall, we do not evaluate these sociologies as very impressive, especially in comparison to western European sociologies, on the one hand, and American sociology, on the other. Central and eastern European sociologies have not produced important contributions either to classical tradition or to contemporary sociology. The only contribution to classical world sociology that should be mentioned here comes from Russian tradition and belongs to Pitrim Sorokin (1959, 1962).

The postwar period in the development of eastern and central European sociology is marked by the imposition of the communist system on the societies in that region. This historical development had overwhelming impact on the development of sociology in these societies. In Russia we witness further expansion of orthodox Marxism—the development that began right after the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, when sociology was removed from universities along with "bourgeois" professors. Historical materialism was proclaimed the only true scientific sociology, whereas the critique of "bourgeois sociology" was the only way of dealing with Western social thought and adopting Western sociological ideas. In the 1950s and 1960s in Russia, a kind of "empirical" Marxist sociology was established. Because of this development, survey research on the conditions of the working class on a large scale was launched and has continued up to this day. This continuing research is atheoretical and purely descriptive.

The so-called Stalinist period, which began right after World War II and lasted until the late fifties, or in some countries even the early sixties, was marked by the almost complete defeat of academic sociology. Sociology was labeled a "bourgeois pseudo-science" (Kolosi and Szelenyi 1993, p. 146), and was abolished as an academic and autonomous discipline. It is hard to overestimate the negative outcomes of this period and the entire period of the communist system in the eastern and central European countries. The development of sociology has been substantially slowed down if not, in some cases, completely stopped. This is why it was only in the 1960s that debates about the scientific character of sociology reemerged in Hungarian and other sociologies in this region. During most of the time after the Stalinist period and until the 1990s, sociologies of this region were trying to free themselves from Marxist ideology, which was not easy since communist regimes always treated sociology as dangerous discipline. These factors are basically responsible for the retardation of these sociologies, as compared to the rest of European sociology. Another important factor that should be mentioned here is the intellectual tradition. As opposed to such countries as Germany, France, Great Britain, and even Poland, the central and eastern European countries have had no tradition of sociological thought.

In this context it is easy to see why, during the communist period and even after the collapse of the communist system, there was little significant achievement in sociological theory and research in eastern and central European countries.

For example, in Bulgaria it was only in 1985 that sociology began as an academic discipline at few universities. The factor that ignited this development was the fact that Bulgarian Sociological Association organized the VII World Congress of International Sociological Association (ISA) in Varna in 1970. However, the organization of the World Congress of ISA was possible due to purely political decision made by Bulgarian communist government and ISA authorities, but not as the result of advancement of Bulgarian sociology itself.

In Rumania and Czechoslovakia the condition of sociology was very bad, and practically until 1989 the discipline of sociology in these countries was subjected to special controls by the communist regimes. For example, in Czechoslovakia, to have any sort of academic career, communist party membership was required. In East Germany it was only after 1980 that earning a Ph.D. in sociology was allowed for East German academics. Even in the former Yugoslavia, sociology was strictly controlled by the government; this control, in conjunction with the lack of a sociological research tradition, created a situation in which substantial development of the discipline of sociology was very difficult (Keen and Mucha 1994).

Only in Hungary were there important contributions to sociology. These were made by Gyorgy Konrad and Ivan Szelenyi in urban sociology and especially in the sociology of inequalities, classes, and intelligentsia. Their book, The Intellectuals on the Road to Class Power, is probably the most famous contribution of Hungarian sociology to world sociological literature (Konrad and Szelenyi 1979). Research on economical sociology by Istvan Gabor, Janos Kornai, and Elmer Hankiss, and on social structure and stratification by Tamas Kolosi, was also significant, not only for our understanding of Hungarian society but also for a general understanding of the phenomena studied.

As mentioned previously, Polish sociology is a special and different case, which is why we treat it separately. There is a rich tradition of sociological thought in Poland. Important contributions to sociology that have significance for this discipline were made by Polish sociologists. Even during the communist period, sociology in Poland remained relatively free in terms of research, the process of institutionalization of academic life, and contact with Western sociology.


To understand the past and present status of Polish sociology, one should take into account its peculiarity, namely, its particularly tight, intrinsic link with the course of Polish national history, overabundant with uprisings, wars, revivals and transformations. The nineteenth century and the period up to World War II were characterized by the reception of the dominant European trends of social thought. The organicism of Herbert Spencer is reflected in the works of Jozef Supinski (1804–1893), called the founder of Polish sociology. He formulated, for the first time, the problem of the interplay between the nation and the state, which became persistent later on in Polish sociology. Ludwik Gumplowicz (1838–1909) was one of the classic exponents of the conflict tradition and probably the only Polish sociologist of that period who entered the standard textbooks of the history of sociology. He published several works, mainly in German: Der Rassenkampf (1883), Grundriss der Soziologie (1885), Die soziologische Staatsidee (1892), and Soziologie und Politik (1892). Gumplowicz's peculiarity consisted in his being an advocate of sociologism before Émile Durkheim. His approach to social life was that the emergence and functioning of social organizations are marked by enduring conflict between social groups, for example, ethnic groups. This is why in some textbooks he is also called a social Darwinist.

The psychologism of Gabriel Tarde and Gustave Le Bon influenced the ideas of Leon Petrazycki (1867–1931), whose three fundamental works were originally published in Russian: The Introduction to the Study of Politics and Law (1892), An Introduction to the Study of Law and Morality (1905), and The Theory of Law and State (1907). His Die Lehre vom Einkommen (two volumes, 1893–1895) was published in Berlin. For Petrazycki, observation is a basic method of investigating and studying objects and phenomena. As regards psychic phenomena, the observation consists in self-observation, or introspection. The task of sociology is to detect objective tendencies of social phenomena. Unconscious adaptation processes might be replaced by deliberate steering of man's destiny with the help of law. The ideal pursued by Petrazycki consisted in the human psyche's being so fitted to the requirements of social life that normative systems (e.g., morality) would prove unnecessary.

Another advocate of psychologism was Edward Abramowski (1868–1918). His main writings include Individual Elements in Sociology (1899), and Theory of Psychical Units (1899), in which he sketched his theory of sociological phenomenalism. Its main thesis was that the development of societies is based on the constant interaction between objective phenomena and human consciousness, which are causes and effects alternately. In three works—Problems of Socialism, Ethics and Revolution, and Socialism and the State, all written before 1899 and published in Social Philosophy: Selected Writings (1965)—he applied sociological phenomenalism to the analysis of the strategy of class struggle and to the realization of the socialist system. Social revolution should be preceded by "moral revolution"—a deep transformation of conscience. A cooperative is a germ of a socialist society, while the state is its enemy. A cooperative can be transformed into a real republic—a cooperative res publica.

Ludwik Krzywicki (1859–1941) was the foremost representative of the first Polish Marxists' generation. Among his works are: Modern Social Issue (1888), Political Economy (1899), Sociological Studies (1923), and Idea and Life (1957). Krzywicki was under substantial influence from Darwin and Comte, which led him to the idea of society as a section of natural phenomena and social evolution as a part of universal evolution. The merging of historical materialism with positivistic scientific criteria produced a natural-evolutionistic branch of Marxism comprising the canon of "iron historical laws," of which Krzywicki himself was the representative. His conception of "historical background" allowed him to invent the original typology of social systems. Also, he was the author of original conception of "industrial feudalism," being the precursor of the "welfare state" theory.

Another follower of Marx's ideas, Kazimierz Kelles-Krauz (1872–1906), published, among other works, The Law of Revolutionary Retrospection (1895), Sociological Law of Retrospection (1898), Economic Basis of Primitive Forms of the Family (1900), A Glimpse of XIX Century Sociology (1901), and Economic Materialism (1908). Kelles-Krauz defined the sociological theory of Marxism as monoeconomism, according to which the whole of social life is determined by the mode of production. However, the central point of his sociological conception was the law of revolutionary retrospection. It referred exclusively to the sphere of social consciousness and was supposed to explain the origins of the revolutionary ideal in a way parallel to monoeconomics: The ideals by which the whole reformatory movement wishes to substitute the existing social norms are always similar to norms from the more or less distant past.

Stefan Czarnowski (1879–1937), in his Leading Ideas of Humanity (1928), Culture (1938), and Works, (2 vols., 1956), continued Durkheim's ideas. Culture is Czarnowski's top achievement, in which he claims that culture is the whole of objective elements of social heritage, common for several groups and because of its generality able to expand in space. Czarnowski overcame the dualism of Durkheim's conception, granting both society and culture the character of reality sui generis. Characteristic of all these conceptions was the overt impact of the actual sociopolitical conditions on the content of social theory.

The soliology of Florian Znaniecki (1882–1958) and the social (or cultural) anthropology of Bronislaw Malinowski (1884–1942) were different from the above-mentioned bodies of work in at least two respects. First, the works of both Znaniecki and Malinowski gained worldwide recognition; second, both consisted of general conceptions not restricted in scope by particular conditions of time, place, and culture. Znaniecki was coauthor (with W. I. Thomas) of The Polish Peasant in Europe and America (1918–1920) and author of numerous books, such as Cultural Reality (1919), Introduction to Sociology (1922), The Laws of Social Psychology (1925), Sociology of Education (2 vols., 1928–1930),The Method of Sociology (1934), Social Actions (1936), The Social Role of the Man of Knowledge (1940), Cultural Sciences (1952), and the posthumous volume Social Relations and Social Roles. He is well known as the author of the concept of "humanistic coefficient," and of a theoretical system unfolding the postulate of universal cultural order and axionormatively ordered social actions. Bronislaw Malinowski, author of Argonauts of Western Pacific (1922), The Sexual Life of Savages in North-Western Melanesia (1929), Coral Gardens and Their Magic (1935), A Scientific Theory of Culture and Other Essays (1944), and Freedom and Civilization (1947), among other works, found world esteem as one of the most influential scholars in establishing the functional approach in cultural anthropology.


The history of Polish sociology in this period has yet to be written. Among the best attempts to characterize Polish sociology under communism are Wladyslaw Kwasniewicz's articles: "Dialectics of Systemic Constraint and Academic Freedom: Polish Sociology under Socialist Regime," and "Between Universal and Native: The Case of Polish Sociology" (Kwasniewicz 1993, 1994). It was a time when sociology underwent severe criticism (including condemnation in the period 1949–1956), a time of a great shift toward Marxist orientation, but also a time of continuation of traditional lines of theorizing and of implementing in Polish sociology several novelties emerging in Western sociology (especially after 1956, when Polish sociology was brought back to life). The revival and development of Polish sociology was possible at that time thanks to the following outstanding intellectuals of the older generation: Jozef Chalasinski (1904–1979), who wrote Young Generation of Peasants (1938), Society and Education (1948), Young Generation of the Villagers in People's Poland (a series of volumes, 1964–69), and Culture and Nation (1968). He was a prominent student of Polish intelligentsia, peasantry, and youth. Stanislaw Ossowski (1897–1963), who wrote On the Peculiarities of Social Sciences (1962) and Class Structure in the Social Consciousness (1963, English ed.). The latter contained fresh, stimulating, and critical overviews of theories of both class and social stratification. Maria Ossowska (1896–1974), who wrote Foundations of the Study of Morality (1947) and Social Determinants of Moral Ideas (1970). Andrzej Malewski (1929–1963), whose work will be mentioned in the next section. Stefan Nowak (1925–1990), whose work will also be mentioned in the next section.

While Ossowski studied class structure and stratification theoretically, Jan Szczepanski initiated empirical research around the problems of the emergence of a socialist-grown working class and an intelligentsia. His book Polish Society (1970) summarizes about thirty monographs that emerged from this research project between 1956 and 1965. The period from 1956 up to the 1970s was certainly the time of a strong group of Marxist sociologists, including among others Zygmunt Bauman, Julian Hochfeld, Wladyslaw Markiewicz, and Jerzy Wiatr.


The major group of Polish sociologists consequently avoided pure theorizing. However, a large number of works present novel interpretations of contemporary sociological theories. Functionalistic orientation was extensively studied by several sociologists, among them Piotr Sztompka (System and Function: Toward a Theory of Society, 1974), and by social anthropologists like Andrzej Paluch (Conflict, Modernization and Social Change: An Analysis and Critique of the Functional Theory, 1976). Another extensively studied orientation is interactionist theory by such theoreticians as Marek Czyzewski (The Sociologist and Everyday Life: A Study in Ethnomethodology and Modern Sociology of Interacton, 1984), Elzbieta Halas (The Social Context of Meanings in the Theory of Symbolic Interactionism, 1987), Zdzislaw Krasnodebski (Understanding Human Behavior: On Philosophical Foundations of Humanistic and Social Sciences, 1986), Ireneusz Krzeminski (Symbolic Interactionism and Sociology, 1986), and Marek Ziolkowski (Meaning, Interaction, Understanding: A Study of Symbolic Interactionism and Phenomenological Sociology as a Current of Humanistic Sociology, 1981).

There are also good examples of innovative works within the domain of conflict theory by Janusz Mucha (Conflict and Society, 1978), Marxist theory by Andrzej Flis (Antinomies of the Great Vision, 1990), social exchange theory by Marian Kempny (Exchange and Society: An Image of Social Reality in Sociological and Anthropological Theories of Exchange, 1988), and "sociological theory of an individual's identity" by Zbigniew Bokszanski (Identity–Interaction–Group: Individual's Identity in Perspective of Sociological Theory, 1989). Since social anthropology used to be treated in Poland as closely related to sociology, I should mention Piotr Chmielewski's work, Culture and Evolution (1988), in which he gives penetrating theoretic insight into evolutionistic theory from Darwin through his own contemporaries, and Zdzislaw Mach's book, The Culture and Personality Approach in AmericanAnthropology (1989), which presents a critical evaluation of this influential theoretical paradigm.

Original, creative efforts at the level of history of social thought, metatheory, and sociological theory have been quite substantial in the postwar period. In the domain of history of sociology an important achievement is the monumental, two-volume History of Sociological Thought by Jerzy Szacki (1979). The work is not just a simple presentation of theories of significant social thinkers from social philosophy of antiquity to contemporary sociological controversies of the 1970s. Critical analysis of each conception is accompanied by a penetrating account of its place in intellectual history, its relation to other orientations, and its role in the development of the social sciences. It can be said that this work presents the "true history of social thought." The work does not have its equivalent in world literature.

We should also mention another original, creative work in the domain of history of sociology. Edited by Piotr Sztompka, Masters of Polish Sociology (1984) presents a comprehensive account of Polish sociology from its beginnings up to martial law in 1981 and after—a period that has been described as initiating a search for a new perspective for Polish sociology.

The greatest achievements in the fields of metatheory and/or philosophy of social sciences include two books by Stefan Nowak and Edmund Mokrzycki. Nowak's book, Understanding and Prediction: Essays in Methodology of Social and Behavioral Sciences (1976), can be considered the vehicle by which Polish sociology entered metatheoretical debates of contemporary social sciences as a fully mature partner. Nowak discusses several issues crucial for sociological metatheory, such as the usefulness of the "humanistic coefficient," laws of science versus historical generalizations, inductionism versus deductionism, the time dimension, causal explanations, reduction of one theory to another, and axiomatized theories. The solutions he proposes are novel and enlightening. The same can be said about Edmund Mokrzycki's book, Philosophy and Sociology: From the Methodological Doctrine to Research Practice (1983). Mokrzycki argues that since early positivism began circulating in the 1950s as the methodological foundation of sociology, the result has been that empirical sociology has lost the character of a humanistic discipline without acquiring the status of a true scientific discipline. As a way out, Mokrzycki proposes to put sociology within the framework of a broadly understood theory of culture.

In the field of sociological theory, the following achievements should be pointed out. First, we should mention the theoretical group dealing with class, social structure, and stratification. This group is headed by Wlodzimierz Wesolowski, whose Classes, Strata, and Power (Wesolowski 1979) serves as their leading theoretical achievement. The crux of the argument is that while, theoretically, relationship to the means of production determines attributes of social position (such as income, work, and prestige), the uniformity of that relationship created under socialism makes the means of production lose their determining properties. In this circumstance, status becomes disengaged from class and tends to "decompose" so that we encounter the phenomenon of "leapfrogging" by groups along certain dimensions. This statement was the point of departure for further studies on meritocratic justice, educational meritocracy, and stratification and structure in comparative perspective (Slomczynski et al. 1981; Slomczynski 1989; Kohn and Slomczynski 1990), social mobility (Wesolowski and Mach 1986), as well as for other studies.

A second group of works deals with problems in the field of sociology but bordering on microsociology and social philosophy. Pawel Rybicki's The Structure of the Social World (1979) introduces to sociological debates in Poland, for the first time in a very comprehensive way, problems of micro-macro link, the problematics of a small group, and ontological dilemmas especially related to individualism versus holism controversy. On the other hand, Andrzej Malewski's work (1975), aimed primarily at modification and experimental testing of the social-psychological theories of L. Festinger, M. Rokeach, and N. E. Miller, also undertakes fundamental methodological and theoretical problems of the integration of social sciences, which Malewski tries to solve through the procedure of theoretical reduction. Jacek Szmatka's work Small Social Structures: An Introduction to Structural Microsociology (1989), tries to reach virtually all the same goals that his predecessors, mentioned above, tried to reach. The final result of these endeavors is his structural microsociology, based on assumptions of emergent sociological structuralism, the structural conception of the small group, and specific conception of short- and long-range social structures.

Still another type of theorizing is present in the next two important theoretical works, Sztompka's Theory of Social Becoming (1990) and Jadwiga Staniszkis's The Ontology of Socialism (1989). The two works are very different in terms of style of theorizing and level of abstraction, but they have one goal in common: to produce theoretical conceptions that would account for tensions, problems, and processes of Polish society. Sztompka, who develops his conception around such categories as human agency and social movements, is highly abstract and stays within the Marxian tradition. Staniszkis engages in her analysis categories such as power, politics, legitimization, and ideology. She is less abstract and refers frequently to concrete societies. However, she too stays within the Marxian tradition.

Sociology of Culture, by Antonina Kloskowska (1983), continues vital traditions of this field in Polish sociology and also provides several theoretical innovations. The term sociology of culture is understood here to refer to a branch of sociological theory that is culture oriented and that operates with various types of cultural data. Basic subject matter for this theory is symbolic culture, while basic factors are conditions and functions of symbolic culture in the domain of societal culture. Kloskowska develops, among other theories, communication theory of symbolic culture and theory of symbolic culture development; one of her statements is that symbolic culture can perform its functions only when it preserves its original character, and its values remain intrinsic and autotelic, and are sought for their own sake.

The most vital and extensively cultivated, however, is empirical sociology of Polish society. Its standards of research procedures do not differ from western European ones. Polish sociology owes many important methodological and technical improvements to two prominent and in some sense classical methodologists: Stefan Nowak and Jan Lutyñski. The empirical branch of Polish sociology is very diversified and multifaceted. Especially extensive are studies on several aspects of social consciousness of Polish society (continuing Ossowski's 1963 work); its changes in time perspective (Koralewicz 1987), value system, attitudes, aspirations (Nowak 1980, 1982, 1989), class consciousness, and political participation (Ziolkowski 1988); and collective subconsciousness and the concept of collective sense (Marody 1987, 1988). Another important and vital field of research are studies on political and legal system of Polish society (Staniszkis 1987), legitimation of the social order (Rychard 1987), repressive tolerance of the political system (Gorlach 1989), local power elite (Wasilewski 1989), and deviance and social control (Kwasniewski 1987). The third domain of research consists of different aspects of social and economic organization of the Polish society, namely self-management and current economical crisis (Morawski 1987), determinants of economical interests (Kolarska-Bobinska 1988), and conditions of social dimorphism (Wnuk-Lipinski 1987). There are also interesting studies on the life values of youth in Poland (Sulek 1985), the role of the army in the Polish political and social scene (Wiatr 1988), and the birth and the role of the Solidarity movement (Staniszkis 1984). We should also mention the Polish attempt to develop the framework of sociotechnics by Adam Podgorecki (1966), which convinced many academics to switch to the study of practical applications of sociology.


The events of 1989, which marked the beginning of an economical, political, and social transformation in Poland, gave Polish sociologists rich empirical material to study. The great interest in research on Polish transition provoked even the suppositions of overpolitization of Polish sociology. Nevertheless, new perspectives appeared in the field of social structure, stratification, and mobility (Wnuk-Lipinski 1989, 1996; Domanski 1994). Attempts to construct a model of the middle class in postcommunist societies have been made by H. Domanski and J. Kurczewski. There is a special focus on the consolidation of young central and eastern European democracies and political and party systems in studies by Ewa Nalewajko (1997). Another well-developed field is the study of power and business elites, their roots and integration by Jacek Wasilewski (Wasilewski 1997, 1998) and Wlodzimierz Wesolowski (1995, 1996). The mainstream of current Polish sociology is focused on society in transition, but this does not mean that there are no pure theoretical studies being in process. The basic science type endeavor is being pursued in the tradition of structural social psychology (i.e., group processes). The theoretical research program in network exchange theory developed by Szmatka, Mazur, and Sozanski is one of the most methodologically advanced in sociology, and their new studies on network conflict theory gained some recognition in world sociology (Szmatka et al. 1997, 1998; Szmatka and Mazur 1998).


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Kinga Wysienska

Jacek Szmatka