Florian Znaniecki

Florian Znaniecki (1882-1958) was a Polish-American sociologist and educator who helped to develop concern for a responsible emphasis on subjective aspects of social behavior.

Florian Znaniecki was born near Swiatniki, Poland. After a childhood of broad exposure to foreign languages, he developed an interest in philosophy, which he studied at the universities of Warsaw and Geneva, among others. He received the doctorate at the University of Cracow (1909) and published extensively in Polish during the next five years. While working as director of the Polish Emigrants Protective Association, he was invited by W. I. Thomas to come to the United States and collaborate on a project dealing with Polish migrants. The result was their monumental The Polish Peasant in Europe and America (1918-1920).

After World War I, Znaniecki returned to Poland to teach sociology at the University of Poznan, where he founded the Polish Sociological Review and the Polish Sociological Institute. He was a visiting professor at Columbia University in 1932-1934 and again in 1939. In 1940 he began a final and happy tenure at the University of Illinois until his retirement in 1950. In 1953 he was elected president of the American Sociological Society.

Znaniecki's first works in English—Cultural Reality (1919), The Laws of Social Psychology (1925), The Method of Sociology (1934), and Social Actions (1936)—shared the basic objective of forging a viable connection between sociology and social psychology. In Cultural Reality, he emphasized the importance of values as components of social action. This was further developed in The Polish Peasant, but he analyzed changes in values, attitudes, and behavior as emergents from the process of social interaction in Laws of Social Psychology. Znaniecki then identified the strategy of sociology as seeking patterns in human valuation in four related phenomena—single actions, social relations, social roles of given individuals, and specified social groups. Focusing on social action as the most basic unit, he distinguished the structure of social action into a set of key values: those dealing with other persons, with methods of influence, with responses of others, and with self-evaluation.

Turning from actions to social roles, Znaniecki developed a detailed theory of the origins and specialization of roles around circles of common interest in The Social Role of the Man of Knowledge (1940). He illustrated his general theory in accounting for modern nations as cultural units in Modern Nationalities (1952).

Znaniecki's most ambitious work, Cultural Sciences (1952), tried to combine basic methodology and a general theoretical orientation for sociology. Essentially, he regarded sociology as the study of actions propelled by different kinds of attitudes or tendencies, though he was specially interested in creative or innovative action, which he took to be difficult to explain in causal terms. However, he was unable to complete a complementary volume on his revised systematic theory of social roles. His incomplete manuscript was posthumously published in 1965 as Social Relations and Social Roles.

Further Reading on Florian Znaniecki

Extended discussions of Znaniecki's work are not available, apart from an unpublished doctoral dissertation by Hyman Frankel, The Sociological Theory of Florian Znaniecki (University of Illinois, 1959). A critical summary of Cultural Sciences is in Pitirim A. Sorokin, Sociological Theories of Today (1966), and a more general summary of his work is in Alvin Boskoff, Theory in American Sociology (1969). Znaniecki's daughter, Helen Lopata, appended a biographical sketch to his posthumous work, Social Relations and Social Roles (1965).

Additional Biography Sources

Dulczewski, Zygmunt, Florian Znaniecki: life and work, Poznan: Wydawn. Poznanskie, 1992.