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History of the Institute of Sociology

The identity and the strength of the Institute of Sociology at the University of Warsaw have been shaped throughout its history.

The Institute has operated under its current name since 1968, but has existed uninterruptedly since 1957. The history of sociology at the University of Warsaw is much longer, though. It started soon after Poland regained its independence after a long period of partitions, settling at the Law and Political Science Department. In 1919–1931 that very department housed the first ever Sociology Section in Poland, established for Leon Petrażycki, and in 1921–1935 it had a History of Social Systems Section founded for Ludwik Krzywicki. Further sociology sections were set up at the Humanities Department and this is where the current Institute of Sociology has its beginnings.

An important role in bringing sociology to the University of Warsaw was played by Stefan Czarnowski. In 1930 he was appointed the head of the newly-founded History of Culture Section, and taught sociology there, his position being further extended into a professorship in sociology in 1934. In the same year a Sociology Section was established for Jan Stanisław Bystroń. It was during those years that Stanisław Ossowski came to work at the University of Warsaw, and Józef Chałasiński made a short appearance there as a member of its staff. The first students obtained a ‘master’s degree in philosophy in the domain of sociology’ and the first doctoral degrees were conferred. World War II then interrupted the development of sociology at the University.

After the war, the Sociology Section soon resumed its work, with new chairs and sections being added. Fieldwork and sociological inquiry were undertaken. In 1947 and 1948, two cohorts of students were admitted to study sociology, with such prominent lecturers as Stanisław Ossowski and Maria Ossowska, Nina Assorodobraj, Jan Stanisław Bystroń and Stefan Nowakowski. The Sociology Seminar, headed by S. Ossowski, attracted students from other departments. After a few years, however, the communist authorities took steps to eliminate sociology as a separate track of study and research. The sociology-related sections were dismantled, and Stanisław Ossowski and Maria Ossowska were banned from teaching.

Out of the Humanities Department evolved the Philosophy and Social Studies Department, soon transformed into the Philosophy Department. The sociology chairs, disbanded in 1952, were replaced by the History of Philosophy and Social Thought Section (Assorodobraj) and the Chair of Historical Materialism (Hochfeld) within the Dialectic and Historical Materialism Section, where the pursuit of selected sociological interests was continued. Candidates with a secondary education were not admitted as sociology students, but in 1949 and 1950, such candidates were allowed in the three-year Study Programme in Social Sciences. In subsequent years, recent secondary school graduates were only allowed to study philosophy. Also, graduates with a degree in the social sciences were permitted to study philosophy as a ‘second cycle’ programme. Some philosophy students developed an interest in social issues and wrote master’s theses on such topics. In 1957 some of them made a transition to study sociology.

After the events of October 1956, sociology returned to Polish universities. In 1957 a sociology section was formed at the Philosophy Department of the University of Warsaw: students were once again admitted, and a number of sociology-focused units were established, including: Sociology (Ossowski), Sociography (Nowakowski), the Sociology of Political Relations, soon transformed into another one: the Marxist Sociology section (Hochfeld), the History of Sociological Thought (Assorodobraj) and the History and Theory of Morality (Ossowska). The masters were joined by a generation of their students, educated after the war. This is when sociology saw the arrival of such names as Zygmunt Bauman, Szymon Chodak, Maria Hirszowicz, Aleksander Matejko, Jan Malanowski, Stefan Nowak, Adam Podgórecki, Jerzy Szacki and Klemens Szaniawski. This period, one of the most magnificent times for university-anchored sociology in Warsaw, ended in 1968.

In the 1960s, the Philosophy Department at the University of Warsaw was a centre of independent thinking, and of the student rebellion in March of 1968. After that memorable date, the authorities relegated many faculty members and students from the university, reinforcing political and administrative control over sociology. In 1968 the Institute of Sociology was established. It comprised chairs established to replace the former organisational structure, and in 1969 the Institute moved from the corner of Krakowskie Przedmieście and Traugutta streets to a building in Karowa Street, which formerly housed a school. In those years the Department of Social Sciences was founded, covering sociology, philosophy, economics, political science, and journalism. However, economics became detached from the other disciplines, and later on (1975) political sciences and journalism followed suit. In 1981 the structure adopted a name which it has used since: the Philosophy and Sociology Department.

Later on, no further structural shifts happened to the Institute of Sociology. New chairs were established, new professors arrived (for many years the Chair of the Sociology of Culture was headed by Antonina Kłoskowska), new doctoral dissertations and books were written, wide-ranging empirical research on Polish society was undertaken (co-ordinated by Jerzy Wiatr). The Institute witnessed subsequent intellectual currents and sociological fads, and educated numerous graduating classes.

After the systemic transition in 1989, new opportunities opened up for sociology graduates, thanks to the fledgling market economy, democracy, free media, and civil society. The Institute launched a paid-for commercial extramural degree programme and obtained (in 2000 and 2005) an accreditation and a certificate from the Conference of Vice-Chancellors of Polish Academic Schools in recognition of its excellence in academic education. The IS launched its own IT network and received another wing in its building (formerly occupied by the Microbiology Institute), and then rebuilt it by 2003 using its own resources. In 2007 the Institute started the Bologna two-cycle degree system.

The life of the Institute was intertwined with important events in the life of Polish society. In 1976, a few of our faculty members signed a letter of protest against amendments to the Constitution of the Polish People’s Republic. One year later, the Student Solidarity Committee was founded, and in 1980–1981 (the period when Solidarity flourished), faculty and students of the IS joined the Solidarity movement as advisors, activists, and researchers. During the martial law that followed, the Institute remained a place of liberal thinking, as well as reading, speaking, and writing. Years later, Jadwiga Staniszkis and Jakub Karpiński (posthumously) were decorated with Orders of Polonia Restituta for their democratic advocacy. If we can say that the collapse of so-called ‘real socialism’ in Poland is well-described, it is largely thanks to sociologists from our Institute. In 1989 the IS building served as the back office for opposition activists taking part in the famous Round Table Talks, and starting from 1990 the building has been adjacent to the seat of the Polish President.

The Institute of Sociology at the University of Warsaw is among the key centres of sociological education and research in Poland. The Institute itself (as well as its predecessors), boasts approx. 3,000 master’s degrees earned by 2008, and nearly 300 PhDs and 69 post-doctoral degrees (‘habilitation’). Our faculty members have authored works in many fields of sociology, including foundation courses in systematic sociology, history of sociological thought, contemporary sociological theories, methodology and statistics, anthropology, and a number of specific sociologies.

The post of the Director of the Institute of Sociology has been held subsequently by: Włodzimierz Wesołowski (1968–1974), Jan Malanowski (1974–1975), Jerzy Wiatr (1975–1977), Witold Morawski (1977–1981), Michał Pohoski (1981-1984), Antoni Kamiński (1984–1990, with Mirosława Marody being the Acting Director between October 1988 and February 1990), Jan Węgleński (1990–1993), Kazimierz Frieske (1993–1999), Wiesława Kozek (1999–2002), Antoni Sułek (2002–2005), Wiesława Kozek (2005–2008), and Sławomir Łodziński from 2008 until the present).