He gained international fame as the co-author with William I. Thomas of The Polish Peasant in Europe and America 1918-1920, considered the foundation of modern Empirical Sociology and Humanistic Sociology.
His Presidential Address, "Basic Problems of Contemporary Sociology," was delivered on September 8, 1954 at the Association's Annual Meeting, and was later published in the American Sociological Review (ASR October 1954 Vol 19 No 5, pp 519-524).
Florian Znaniecki was born on January 15 1882 in Świetniki, Russian Empire. He studied in Geneva, Zurich and Paris and obtained his PhD at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. Znaniecki came to Chicago in the United States in 1914 and returned to the Second Polish Republic in 1920 to accept the first Polish chair in sociology at the University in Poznań. There he organised the Polish Sociological Institute (Polish Polski Instytut Socjologii) and began publishing The Polish Sociological Review (Polish Polski Przegląd Socjologiczny). Keeping in touch with American sociologists, he lectured at Columbia University in New York in 1931-1933 and during the summer of 1939.
This summer ended the Polish stage of his career, since the German invasion on Poland and the start of World War II prevented his return to Poland. He then moved to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he taught until his retirement, deciding not to return to the communist People's Republic of Poland. He died on March 23, 1958 in the town of Champaign, Illinois, USA.
Florian Znaniecki characterized the world as caught within two contrary modes of reflection; these were idealism and realism. Znaniecki proposed a third way, which he labeled culturalism (Polish kulturalizm). Znaniecki's culturalism is one of the ideas that founded modern sociological views of antipositivism.
His focus and subsequent impact lay mainly in the realms of sociology, philosophy, and secondarily psychology. According to the culturalist perspective, sociology should deal with the effects of culture, as sociology is a study of human meaning, and subsequently dualistic with a locus of empirical reality. Znaniecki responds to demands for objective reality as a focus, those that would use Descartesian arguments of fancy, and those with pre-postmodern malaise, thusly, "Therefore, whether we agree that the individual can contribute to the evolution of the objective world or not, whether we treat the objective realities or thoughts which the individual reaches as creations or mere reconstructions, as new objectively or new only for him, we must take the other, active side of the experiencing individual, the creative personality into account."
In 1934 he formulated the principle of analytic induction, designed to identify universal propositions and causal laws. He contrasted it with enumerative research, which provided mere correlations and could not account for exceptions in statistical relationships.(Taylor & Bogdan 1998)
Znaniecki proposed that social phenomena (Polish czynności społeczne) should be treated as active or as potential subjects of one's actions (humanist principle, Polish współczynnik humanistyczny ). According to this principle, the individual's experiences and ideas are of utmost importance and the sociologist should study reality as a social actor (subjectively), not as an independent observer (objectively). As one of the first sociologists, he started analyzing personal documents like letters, autobiographies, diaries and similar items. Znaniecki's term "social phenomena" is broader then Max Weber's social actions.
According to Znaniecki, sociology should analyze social relations, which are composed of values. Their basic element is that of human beings. He recognized four types of social relations:
The Polish Peasant in Europe and America 1918-1920 is considered to be a classic study of immigrants and their families based on personal documents, and is the foundation of modern empirical sociology and humanist sociology.