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 Documentation and links on Znaniecki


Znaniecki was a philosopher turned sociologist. In fact the roots of his sociological system were deeply in the domain of two philosophical sources: the neokantism, German historism (Dilthey, Rickert) and the American and British pragmatism (Dewey, Schiller, Mead). He almost completely ignore the heritage of Marx and marxism. It must be noted also a quite limited interest paid by Znaniecki to Weber even their sociological systems coincide in many points. In opposite to the idealism and the naturalism he proposed new culturalistic paradigm - ontological and methodological - as a basic philosophical orientation because the human world is a world of culture thus essentialy different from the world of nature. "The cultural world is a world of values, not of things". Values are fondamentaly different from the natural objects and from the subjective states of consciousness; they are objective as a things in the sense that the experience of a meaning, like the experience of a content, can be indefinitely repetead by an indefinitely number of people, and consequently tested. In this sense they found the cultural system. In other words, Znaniecki asserts that the data of cultural system are always "somebody's", never "nobody's" data, because such data already belong to somebody else's active experiences and are such as this active experience makes them. This philosophical culturalism become for Znaniecki the ontological basic conception to formulate the system of humanistic sociology as a science of the strict social reality, the social values, a particular type of values of the wider cultural reality. "Man as a social value is only an aspect of himself as he appears to somebody else who is actively interested in him". In this perspective Znaniecki indicated four systems of the social reality: social actions, social relations, social persons and social groups. Social actions are simple and fundamental components of social reality; it is a normatively regulated interaction between two or more individuals.

This four systems found together the social order defined as "axionormative order", "axionormative system" and "axionormative structure". In other words, the society is not a set of individual actions but the superindividual, axionormative and persistent entirety; both, outcome and regulations of those actions. Thus, Znaniecki in his social theory avoids two ontological extremes: atomistic individualism and metaphysical collectivism. In the methodological dimension, Znaniecki expressed the "new sociological paradigm" in the concept of the "humanistic coefficient" and in the principle of systematic and contextual interpretation. The first means that the facts must be above all taken in connection with the whole to which they belong. In other words, the humanistic coefficient is a methodological principle to analyse the data in the perception of their participants, as components of their active experience. Hence great interes of Znaniecki (firstly with Thomas) in the research-technique known as the analysis of human documents (letters, memoirs, life histories etc.) later defined as the autobiographical method in sociology. The second means that the interpretation of social behaviour must be contestual because of quite and spontaneous tendency of the people to express their actions, attitudes, relations, valuations etc. in relations to the same components in a large social scale. Together this two methodological elements are, according to Znaniecki, the best base for application of the principle of analytic induction, later named by him the method of eidetic cases. Eventually, the Znaniecki's sociology, like Weber's, is deeply humanistic because it is effect of theoretical tentative to propose the method of the analyse of the irreducible uniqueness of the human world with the scientic method. In today's perspective Znaniecki can be considered proto-functionalist, proto-structuralist and a forerunner of symbolic interactionism.


Florian Witold Znaniecki was born in a noble family in Swiatniki near Wloclawek (Poland). From his earliest years he displayed an unusual interest in literature and philosophy. Some his poetic verses were published. His career as a student of the Warsaw University was short; after few months he was expeled because of his participation in a student's protest against Russian administration. From 1903 to 1909 Znaniecki was abroad. He studed literature, philosophy, theory of science, pedagogics and sociology in the universities of Geneva, of 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 after, in 1910, he received a Ph.D. on the basis of the dissertation entitled The problem of Values in Philosophy.

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. In that period Znaniecki was the active member of the Polish Psychological Society and the Polish Philosophical Society; he published his main philosophical works and he translated the masterpiece Creative Evolution by Henri Bergson in to Polish.

Thomas arranged an apointment for Znaniecki at the University of Chicago, and there they worked together on the study of Polish emigrant, which came out in five volumes in 1918-1920 under the title The Polish Peasant in Europe and America, today the clasic work in sociology.

In 1920 Znaniecki returned in Poland and received a chair of sociology at the University of Poznan - first in Poland; he initiated systematic training of first group of students as "advance" academic staff of the sociology; he found the Polish Sciological Institut and the first Polish sociological journal -"Polski Przeglad Socjologiczny". In this way Poznan University became the center of sociology as an academic discipline in Poland which later would be denominated the "school of Znaniecki" identificated with notably sociologist like Jozef Chalasinski, Thedore Abel, Jan Szczepanski. In 1932-34 Znaniecki spent fruitful time as a visiting professor at Columbia University in New York. This appointment was repeated in 1939, just at the outbreak of the II World War, which kept him from returning to Poland.

In 1940 he accepted the posision of professor at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign where he stayed till his death in 1958. After II World War he refused to return in homeland because he did not accept the comunist regime. To last days of his life he worked on his opus magnum, the syntetic volume on Systematic Sociology, which, uncomplete, was published posthumously by his dauther (Helen Lopata-Znaniecki) under the title Social Relations and Social Role: The Unfinished Sociology (1965).

His life and work spanned two cultures: Polish and American. In America 1954 Znaniecki acquired considerable status in the academic circle; in 1953 he was even elected the President of American Sociological Association. In Poland whereas, untill late years 50ths, his sociology was condamned by communist party as "bourgois", conservative thus emarginated. Now, in his homeland, Florian Znaniecki is largely reconsidered not only as an emminent figure of Polish sociology but also as a philosopher.

Main works

Selected Bibliography

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In Italian:


Documentation on Znaniecki

 From the Introduction of L. Gallino to W. I. Thomas and F. Znaniecki, Il contadino polacco in Europa ed in America, Ed. di comunità, Milano, 1968 (in Italian) [not accessible as of Apr 16, 2003]

 Elsbieta Halas, "The Humanistic Approach of Florian Znaniecki"

Links on Znaniecki

50. Klassiker der Soziologie: Florian W. Znaniecki (in German: biography, bibliography, Nachlass, links)

Archiwum Floriana Znanieckiego PTPN w Poznaniu (in Polish)

Florian Znaniecki Society, Institute of Sociology, Poznan University

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