William Isaac Thomas: The Work

The names William I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki have come to be linked in the minds of generations of scholars because The Polish Peasant in Europe and America is their common masterpiece. It is for this reason, although their cast of mind and even their personalities differed in many ways, they will be treated together in this chapter. Their work is intertwined in the history of sociology, and their lives may be best approached in terms of their contrapuntal relationships.

Given this focus on their common work, The Polish Peasant will be discussed first, even though both authors, and Thomas particularly, had already made other noteworthy contributions prior to their joint enterprise. The purpose of The Polish Peasant was to provide a documented sociological treatment of the life-experiences of Polish countrymen as they came to be involved in the major social changes that attended their moves from the relative security and rootedness of their native villages to the uprooting wilderness of American urban life. My emphasis, however, here, as elsewhere, is not on the detailed findings of this work, but on the major theoretical underpinnings that give it a significance well beyond its stated purpose.


From Coser, 1977:511.