ACSPRI Conferences, RC33 Eighth International Conference on Social Science Methodology

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Florian Znaniecki’s Memoir Method in Social Scientific Research

Vegneskumar Maniam

Building: Law Building
Room: Breakout 10 - Law Building, Room 105
Date: 2012-07-11 03:30 PM – 05:00 PM
Last modified: 2012-04-12


The concept of humanistic sociology and the memoir methodology approach was introduced by Florian Znaniecki with W.I.Thomas in The Polish Peasant in Europe and America (1927). The first aim of this paper is to review some key studies which have employed the memoir approach and consider their process of data collection and analysis. A second aim is to explore the current status and usefulness of Znaniecki’s memoir approach in current social science research methodology. The humanistic sociological approach, according to Znaniecki, emphasised the need to accept social and cultural values and actions as facts, just as human agents themselves accept them. Every individual is seen as a member of at least one group social system (e.g. family, school), and interpreted as a centre of experience and actions based on the culture of that group(s). These conscious human agents play the major role in maintaining and changing a group’s cultural system. Based on Znaniecki’s published works, there are four different types of memoirs: the full life memoir, oral memoirs based on detailed conversations or interviews personal correspondence, diaries and personal statements. The advantages of such personal documents, which originate in the consciousness of the writers, is that they are less structured and influenced by the researcher. Respondents are free to write their thoughts, feelings, aspirations and assessments. There is a scope for the respondents to recall some events, select certain incidents, omit others, and reveal the influence of people in their past life, according to their judgment at the moment of writing. According to Znaniecki, in sociological analysis all data must be taken with the humanistic coefficient, that is, from the standpoint of the conscious human agents who experience the phenomenon being investigated, not from that of an outside observer. This paper highlights examples of personal statements about a current phenomenon, secondary students’ participation in sport, and shows how the data were collected and analysed, and what findings emerged. Gathering memoir or personal document data, and analysing them from the perspective of the writers, is a method that has an important place in understanding the culture of different social groups. It can be applied at many levels – global, ethnic, national, socio-economic or family group, and has special application to language, religion, gender studies, sports and leisure.

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