Florian Znaniecki

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"The issue of civilization is also a significant topic in Znaniecki’s works and he gave civilization a new meaning in his theory of social and cultural systems. He views civilizationas processual, defining it as the processes of social integration of culture. Two of Znaniecki’s books dealt exclusively with the issue of civilization. However, since they were written in Polish, they went largely unnoticed around the world. Furthermore, the popularity of new paradigms after World War II, including the structural functionalism of Talcott Parsons, was not conducive to making Znaniecki’s works widely known.

In this article, I will discuss the above-mentioned two books about civilizational processes, focusing on key questions associated with the crisis of civilization and Znaniecki’ idea of a fluid civilization, in order to show that these works remain pertinent today.

The first book, Upadek cywilizacji zachodniej [The Fall of Western Civilization], was published in 1921, and the second one, Ludzie teraźniejsi a cywilizacja przysz ł oś ci [Contemporary People and the Civilization of the Future], appeared in 1934. While an analysis of the content and structure of cultural systems in order to present their duration and their changes over time does nofocus on specific social collectivities, the concept of civilization introduced by Znaniecki allowed him to include spatiality in the relations between groups. As he wrote in Cultural Reality , “each group with its total civilization becomes geographically localized” [Znaniecki1919: 293]. The geographical environment is endowed with a humanistic coefficient, since it is meaningful and valued in human historical experience. It must be emphasized that, unlike Arnold Toynbee, Znaniecki did not attempt to determine a specific number of civilizations – he took the radical stance tihat there is an unspecified multitude of them, while his theory regarding the civilizational process precluded treating civilizations as close identities, inevitably doomed to clash [ Huntington 1996].


Cultural ideals play a key role in civilizational processes. They make cultural systems not only persist, but also develop over time, since ideals carry a transgressive potential in regard to the shaped axio normative order."