Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

Critical Sociology in Poland and Its Public Function

Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

Critical Sociology in Poland and Its Public Function

Article excerpt

One of the characteristic and lasting traits of Polish sociology has been its public function, which consists in the engagement of researchers in holistic and macro-social issues, and particularly those requiring the diagnosis of major social and political questions. From the first analyses of Polish society, the issues that have been chosen have been those considered essential to an accepted vision of society's development, social progress, and process of modernization. Sociologists assumed the role, proper to the intelligentsia, of leaders of a society that needed to make up for its historical backwardness and hasten the development not only of its economy, but also of its cultural and mental attributes. What mattered to them was to point out the main social problems and to participate in planning future systemic solutions. In the interwar years, sociologists were to provide rational, conscious leadership, aiming, as Ludwik Krzywicki wrote, to 'citizenize the masses' (cf. Szacki 1995). In the communist period the engagement of the social sciences grew: first under the influence of the universal ideology of social revolution and a new beginning, and later, after the rebirth of sociology in the last decades of the People's Republic of Poland, as an important element criticizing the system of 'real socialism' (Kwasniewicz 1995).

My aim is to consider how the task of the social sciences, as understood in Poland, can be connected with critical sociology. I would like to address what is involved in critically oriented sociology in local, Polish conditions. I believe that interesting changes, involving the spread and deepening of the critical perspective, have occurred in this question in recent years. The critical approach in Polish sociology has been gradually increasing: drawing from various inspirations, but referring back to the task of civil engagement that has long been present.

In thinking about critical sociology, I chiefly have the tradition of critical theory in mind, but I also adopt a wider understanding of the critical approach in sociology. While traditional theory concentrates on facts, assigning them the status of direct data in the cognitive process, critical theory notes that they are socially constructed in a dual sense. Both the subject and the object are marked by their social nature. Thus they are treated as creations of the historically variable intellectual activities of man. Furthermore, it is premised that research work will be engaged in nature, or even markedly political. This critical engagement in the contemporary social world is based on the conviction that the existing state of affairs does not encompass all the possibilities. Consciousness of the historicity and dialogical nature of social knowledge, which is enmeshed in cultural and political conditions, and a clear engagement in the practical situation, are therefore proper to this approach (cf. Calhoun 1994:11; Szahaj 2008). Further, it is supposed to encourage the disclosure of hidden mechanisms of oppression, inequality, and violence in the surrounding world. The final aim of critical sociology is thus the emancipation of society through the provision of a new view and different interpretation, and by enabling its emergence from false consciousness. The constructivist bases of this approach point toward the always historical, contextual, and thus temporal nature of the interpretation of reality, including the interpretations offered by critical sociology as well. In our case, it is a matter chiefly of seeking descriptions of Polish society that will, in a new manner, by revealing unobvious and hidden social mechanisms and looking critically at existing traditions and understandings, suggest different interpretations of the social changes after communism's fall. In this way, sociologists participate in the public debate over the shape and prospects of Poland's development, and become engaged in the project of transformation.

Reconstruction involves the analysis and interpretation of macro-social phenomena connected with the processes of systemic transformation (cf. …

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