This book by a sociologist with historical interest is an “explanatory monograph" of the nation-making process in Żmiąca, a small mountainous village located in south-eastern Poland. In this book, the author seeks to explain the apparent paradox of Żmiąca inhabitants' present idea of the Polish nation being “eternal," while in the nineteenth century, and even up to World War I their forefathers associated “Poles" with “Masters" (panowie) and treated them as alien and dangerous. Łuczewski selected this village because it was an object of a study done by a noted Polish historian Franciszek Bujak in 1903 and of another study by sociologist Zbigniew T. Wierzbicki in 1963. Łuczewski and his students conducted their own field work there in the first decade of the present century.
The author, well-familiar with the on-going general debate on nation-making processes, ambitiously sets himself a task of explaining his case in the light of an “integral theory" of nation (an approach rather than a theory in this reviewer's opinion). This he formulates in polemics with the primordial theory (nations are eternal), the modernist theory (nations are creations of modernity), the ethno-symbolic theory (while nations are creations of modernity, they are also communities of culture) and the constructivist theory (nations do not exist, what exist are their representations). His own explanatory approach, building on the critical reading of these theories, consists on singling out the creators and the recipients of national ideologies. The creators may be as well intellectuals as parents telling stories to their children. The reception depends on the social context and on the adequacy of an ideology's message to its recipients' interests. This approach seems to work well in the case of Żmiąca, allowing to escape the dilemma of agency vs. structure and to incorporate the role of chance.
He sees the nation-making process in Żmiąca as consisting of six stages. The first is a pre-history of this process and covers the period from settling the village in 1370 until 1770. At the end of this era, the first offer of a nationalist ideology was that of the Bar Confederation, which did not make any appeals to the peasantry. In the second stage (1770-1846), there were the unattractive ideas of the Towarzystwo Demokratyczne Polskie (Polish Democratic Society, founded by the exiles after the insurrection of 1830). The peasants at that time began to think of themselves as “the Emperor's peasants." The success of imperial ideology was the result of a relatively weak state, compared with the feudal oppression of their Polish lords. In the third stage (1846-1918) Łuczewski observes a “national dimorphism." The elite (priests, teachers) considered themselves Polish, but did not direct their ideology upon the peasants. The latter, under the influence of the church and in conflict with Jews, strengthened their Catholic, but not Polish identity. Catholic priests – whose role the author analyzes in great detail – from past to present – played the leading role in spreading nationalist ideology. The interwar period is the fourth stage, when the peasants were offered three versions of nationalist ideology: the state-centered, the peasant-populist, and the Catholic, which turned out to be the most attractive for them. In the period of state socialism, the fifth stage, the competing ideologies were those of national communism and of national Catholicism, the latter being the winner. In the last stage, after 1989, the process of primordialization of the nation in the consciousness of Żmiąca inhabitants has been completed.
This very well written book, together with the old, but still important study by Tadeusz Łepkowski and a more recent work of Tomasz Kizwalter, belongs to the most important Polish books on the history of the nation-making process. Its value lies in seamlessly combining sociological and historical analysis and interpretation, as well as in providing us with a case-based “thick description" of nation-making, one of the most important social processes of the last two centuries. If it has weaknesses, it is that it is a bit vague when it comes to its sociological and anthropological description of the post-World War II Żmiąca, despite several months of the author's and his collaborators' field work there. We learn a lot about what people think, but very little about the economic and social change in this period: agriculture vs. other occupations, the opening of the village due to infrastructure improvements (roads, communication), the rise of literacy and education, emigration and immigration. The author tells us next to nothing about the social structure of the village, and does not inform us even about the number of households there. All this is somewhat surprising, taking into consideration how much importance he assigns in the theoretical part of his work to the role of “context".
Łuczewski suggests “this type of story is part of what we call the history of Poland" (p. 553). That is undoubtedly true, but one may add that the history of Poland (France, Europe, the World…) is shaped as well by more general, also transnational processes. At the same time, his analysis of the extreme, a relatively isolated case gives us valuable insight into the patterns of formation of the national-Catholic identity, so important for the large segments, if not a vast majority of the contemporary Polish society.