Jan Szczepanski

Jan Szczepanski
by Jennifer Platt, University of Sussex, England

Born: 1913 Died: 2004
Nationality: Polish

Education
Studies in philosophy and sociology, starting in 1932, at University of Poznan
MA, University of Poznan [thesis on the semantics of Husserl]
[1937-38: worked in the Institute of Rural Culture under Prof. Josef Chalasinski, and wrote a book Graduates of \Agricultural Schools in the Development of the Village.]
1939  PhD, University of Poznan [Thesis topic, ‘The idea of the milieu in rural sociology’; supervisor, Florian Znaniecki.]

Posts held:
1939  Assistant Professor; senior assistant to Znaniecki, University of Poznan
1939-45  Military service in the war; expelled to forced labour in Germany and Austria; UNRRA official working in displaced persons’ camps.
1945-70, University of Lodz (1949, assistant professor;1951, dean of the faculty;
1952, associate professor; 1952-6, Rector.)
1956  Head, Department of Empirical Sociological Research of the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences;
1961, Deputy Director of the Institute, 1969 Director..
1961-68  Director, Institute of Research on Higher Education

ISA participation, main roles
He gave a joint paper at the 1956 Evian Congress; at Stresa in 1959 he contributed to the final session reviewing the work of the Congress, discussing the sessions on methods; he attended the 1962 one in Washington without giving a paper.
President, RC on the Sociology of Industry, 1956-59.
Programme Committee, 1959 Congress
Council member, 1962
EC member, 1962-66
President, 1966-70

Participation in other settings
1957-60  member of Polish parliament; member of Council of State 1977-82.
1970, President of a commission at the 16th General Conference of UNESCO
1972   Chair of expert committee reporting on the state of education in Poland

Intellectual and ISA career
Szczepanski came from a farming family, which gave him an interest in rural sociology and, he felt, a peasant’s realism and stubbornness, but his early experience was extended by secondary school in town.  During the war, that experience was extended much more radically by forced labour in different countries and in groups of mixed nationalities, and then the turmoil of post-war movements of refugees and former prisoners of war etc.. Unskilled industrial work, and later training as a turner, gave him knowledge on which he drew later as an industrial sociologist, and he concluded that all sociologists would benefit from such direct practical experience of their subjects of study.[1]  He does not mention language skills gained along the way, but his later ability to teach in five different languages must have owed something to this period.

After the war, sociology was reconstructed in Poland, but under very difficult conditions: ‘All Eastern Europe became a tremendous laboratory of social change’ (Szczepanski 1973: 150) – which provided the opportunity to study change processes in entire societies, however one felt about them.  The University of Lodz, where he worked, was a newly created one (where Ossowski also worked initially); the national boundaries of ‘Poland’ had changed significantly, and the Soviet bloc with its political and economic changes and intellectual constraints was soon created. 

In the Stalinist period to 1956 textbooks he wrote on the history of sociology could not be published, though articles apparently could be, and he contributed to political discussion in the weeklies.  After 1956, the turn away from Stalinism made life easier, and there were occasions when sociological expertise was called upon to contribute to national affairs, which implied recognition of sociology as a science. The Department of Empirical Sociological Research that he headed carried out research on the development of the working class, which was published from 1958 to 1968 in 28 volumes edited by him.  In the 1960s he also worked on intellectuals, higher education, industrialisation, and industrial sociology; textbooks he published then had wide sales and were translated into several (mostly E. European) languages.  It is clear that he published prolifically on both sociological topics and current political issues, though language barriers mean that relatively little has been directly known beyond Eastern Europe.

The 1956 World Congress in Amsterdam was the first with significant Polish participation – a delegation headed by Schaff and Hochfeld[2], both members of the Central Committee of the Party; Szczepanski submitted a (joint) paper on Poland for the session on the teaching of sociology (Szczepanski and Milczarek 1956), which was published in the Transactions.  Ossowski had been the first Pole to belong to the ISA EC, serving from 1949-52 and then again for 1956-9, becoming a vice-president in 1959; Szczepanski succeeded him on the EC in 1962 before becoming president. (Georges Friedmann’s first wife was Polish, and it helped that they encouraged visits from Poles.) 

To have a president from the Soviet bloc was, of course, an important gesture of inclusion at the time.  Szczepanski tried to extend the association East and South, beyond being a European club – succeeding in 1962 in getting a Russian on the EC; Russia accepted UNESCO, which made ISA officially all right.[3]  He felt that without ISA there would have been no empirical sociology in Eastern Europe; at the time it was in practice essential to keep Russia on board. 

The 1970 World Congress was scheduled in Varna in Bulgaria, the first one to be held in a socialist country, and Szczepanski’s stand of principle as president to resist attempted political censorship of papers was much admired, as were his political skills more generally, as the office archives show. [4]

References, other sources of information, related work

  • Bertrand, André (1966) ‘Julian Hochfeld 1911-1966’, International Social Science Journal 18.3: 321-2.
  • Keen, Mike F. and Janusz Mucha eds. (1994)  Eastern Europe in Transformation: The Impact on Sociology
  • Sulek, Antoni (2010) ‘ »To America!» Polish sociologists in the United States after 1956 and the development of empirical sociology in Poland’, East European Politics and Societies
  • Szczepanski, Jan and Wladyslawa Milczarek (1956)  ‘Cours préparatoires pour les études universitaires’, pp. 32-41 in Transactions of the Third World Congress of Sociology, vol. 7.
    Szczepanski, Jan (1968a)  ‘The International Sociological Association and Development of World Sociology’, Sociological Abstracts 16.1:iii-v.
  • Szczepanski, Jan (1968b)  ‘Some remarks on macrosociology’, Social Science Information 7: 183-194.
  • Szczepanski, Jan (1973)  ‘Tribulations of a Polish sociologist’, International Social Science Journal 25: 149-53.
  • Szczepanski, Jan (1978)  Interview with Kurt Jonassohn
  • Sulek, Antoni (19   )  ‘Paul Lazarsfeld and Polish sociology: A historical record of contact, perception, and impact’, Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 34.4: 367-380
  • Walaszek, Zdzislava (1977)  ‘Recent developments in Polish sociology’, Annual Review of Sociology 1977.3: 331-362

Web site
None available

Presidential address
None given

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[1]  ‘I have spent half of my life, and even more, in offices, meeting-rooms, and in contacts with people, rather than in lecture rooms and research.  I always checked my sociological findings against practical reality, seeing this as a test of their validity.’  (Sczcepanski 1973: 153)

[2] Hochfeld became deputy director of UNESCO’s Social Science Department in 1962 (Bertrand 1966 )

[3]  But they sent non-English speakers.  Szczepanski says his contemporary member Konstantinov trusted him, and so simply always voted with him.

[4]  This paragraph draws heavily on Szczepanski 1978.

[5] Special thanks to Kurt Jonassohn for sharing his interviews.