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  • Szacki, Jerzy
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  • Wesołowski, Włodzimierz
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Commentary to the report “The state of sociology in Poland, 1990-2000” by Janusz Mucha and Paweł Załęcki


Zdzisław Krasnodębski

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[1]  This report gives valuable information and analyzes the situation of Polish sociology in great detail. However, my general impression is that it describes the situation too optimistically. In the following, I concentrate on some critical points; these are, in my view, not stressed enough.

1. Lack of historical reflexivity

[2]  As pointed out by this report, a critical re-examination of the past role of sociology and sociologists after 1989 has not been undertaken; nor has there been any sort of broad discussion about new rules, intellectual standards, and the need of institutional reforms.

[3]  There are practically no books or articles on the history of Polish sociology for the period 1945-1998. As a result of this, students and sociologists of the younger generation hardly know anything about this discipline’s past - nor do they know much about the history of institutions or the change of paradigms and opinions. It was only recently and only in a few cases that an attempt of such historical reflection was made (for instance, in interviews with Włodzimierz Wesołowski and Jerzy Szacki published last year in the Catholic journal Więź).

[4]  Intellectual biographies of many professors of sociology are divided into two periods: before and after 1989. In many cases, the oeuvre before 1989 seems to have disappeared or never existed.

[5]  The report was right in noting that Marxism has almost totally vanished. However, has the new ideology not replaced the old one in many cases (according to the report this is not the case) and does old political conformism not continue in new forms?

[6]  If Edward Shils is right that sociology is an intellectual tradition, then it is deeply distorted in Poland. One of the symptoms of that distortion is the fact that even today there are almost no intellectual debates in Polish sociology.

2. Lack of de-communization

[7]  The main reason for this phenomenon is of course the fact that many of the old sociological works (books and articles) and activities are now politically, morally and intellectually very embarrassing for their authors.

[8]  The problem of intellectual responsibility of sociologists and personal integrity of university teachers was never clearly solved. No serious attempt of de-communisation was undertaken in the Polish academic world and this was also the case in sociology. As noted by the report, the only case of active institutional de-communisation was the liquidation of the Institute of Basic Problems of Marxism-Leninism and of The Academy for Social Science.

[9]  It is striking that no one was removed from the universities and other academic institutions after 1989, despite the fact that the infiltration into university life by the secret police before 1989 was surely not weaker than into other important parts of social life. Many sociologists had greatly contributed to the ideological legitimation of the regime; some of them were more or less ideologists rather than sociologists and some are still active in academic life. All of this shows that the standards of academia remain low.

[10]  However, the continuity of formal and informal rules and mechanisms governing the life of the discipline is far more important than the question of personal continuity. Despite the democratization that took place, old networks and old patterns of making decisions are still at work and have partially survived.

4. The lack of more profound reform of universities and higher education

[11]  De-communization could have meant the chance of general reform of universities (as in East Germany). However, curricula and institutional arrangements have only slightly changed in Poland. Such institutions, typical for communist countries, like the Polish Academy of Science remain virtually untouched. Thus, sociological institutions have not changed very much.

[12]  The reforms that were undertaken were a result of the impact of a changed economic situation. They were more of a reaction than a conscious reform. The only totally new phenomena were private high schools and universities. However, they were not really universities or academic institutions. No research was done at these universities - only teaching, but not always of good quality. One of the traditional principles - the “Humboldtian” principle of unity of teaching and research - is no longer valid in most of these new institutions. These schools and universities operate in the gray sphere and depend on the personal resources of state universities. The legal status of many international institutions active in Poland is also not clear. The degrees that are given by these institutions are in some cases not accepted by Polish authorities etc.

5. Low efficiency

[13]  One of the effects of the lack of reforms is very low efficiency; this becomes evident if we compare the average age that academic degrees are bestowed. In Germany, a sociologist who has not completed his/her habilitation until the average age of 40-42 has almost no chance of becoming a professor (and according to the new law, the habilitation will even be abolished). In Poland, the average age of finishing the habilitation is 47.2 years. Many sociologists obtain their doctorate when they are almost forty.

[14]  It also seems to me that despite the rapid increase in the number of sociological books on the market, the scientific output of Polish sociology is still much lower than in Western countries.

[15]  There are still no mechanisms for removing unproductive scholars from academic institutions. In general, there is hardly any competitiveness in the whole system; therefore, the competition for appointments is in most cases pure fiction.

6. No change of generations

[16]  One of the major problems is the lack of young professors and the phenomenon which can be called ”gerontocracy”.

[17]  In 1995, 58,9% of the professors were aged 60 and over; only 9,3% of the professors were below 50. By 2005, approximately 60% of the professors will have retired. Sociology faces the same problems. Some data is given in the report.

7. Economic deprivation

[18]  The relative deprivation of scholars grew in those years and is partly responsible for the crisis in the disciplines. An ordinary professor earns approximately 2000 zloty a month (500 Euro). Is it any wonder that university careers are not attractive for young people? As a result, a new practice of taking many jobs at many universities and other institutions has developed. It is not prohibited by law, but it greatly contributes to the lowering of standards for teaching and research.

8. Provincialism

[19]  It is striking how little the programs of sociological education have changed. In teaching programs of the theory of sociology almost the same books are recommended as 10 years ago. It is obvious that there are not enough translations of world-sociology and the exchange of ideas is still relatively slow. Some of the most influential books of the last decades - for instance, the main works of Luhmann, Giddens, Beck, Eisenstadt, Bourdieu etc. - are not translated into Polish and are mostly unavailable to the students.

9. Peripherialisation and dependency

[20]  Polish scholars depend to a great extent on the support of foreign foundations, scholarships and visiting professorships. Of course, the financing of science also means steering it. Some topics and approaches which are important for Poles are not viewed as relevant by foreign sponsors. Also some answers are preferred, for instance, research that is “pro-European” rather than “euro-skeptic”.

[21]  The peripherialisation of sociology can also be seen in the very small range of topics. Polish sociology is a very “nationalistic discipline”. Most of the works of Polish sociologists concern only Polish society. Positive exceptions and new phenomena are research of eastern neighboring countries. There is almost no empirical and analytical research on Western societies. Also the amount of comparative research is too low, and in most cases Polish scholars only apply the theoretical ideas and methods that were developed in the West.

10. Domination of demoscopy and trivialization

[22]  According to the report: “Public debates almost completely ignore conclusions of sociological investigations despite the fact that sociologists are frequently present in electronic media”. What was expected from sociology was long-term demoscopic information or political comments but it increasingly concentrated on short-term demoscopic research. Characteristic was the huge decline of theoretical interests. The only exception was the theory of postmodernity (Zygmunt Bauman).

[23]  Sociology became popular because of an increasing presence of sociologists in the media. The side-effect of this popularity is trivialization. Sociology is considered to be identical with trivial quantitative research and political commentaries, mostly tautological, as for instance: “that party will be successful during elections if it gains many votes” and other such truths.

11. Lack of realism

[24]  In the real socialism it was not sociology that adequately described the system and predicted its decline. The most important and influential ideas could be found in political essays, in books of historians and philosophers. If someone today wants proper information about socialist reality, he/she can rarely find it in sociological books. However, the situation has greatly improved in this respect and sociology has become more “realistic”. However, one can still doubt if it really gives a sound knowledge of contemporary Polish society. In addition, I recommend my German students to read and analyze cultural essays, historical works, literature and works in political philosophy. Sociological works are often based on not critically examined and reflected convictions which are projected onto reality, but this can be found in many other countries.

Bremen, 2002