“To this day I still consider him the most gifted sociologist who has ever taken part in our monographic campaigns.”

Anton Golopenția, a Banat native like himself and Octavian Neamțu, was a completely different person. I met him in the same year, 1930, when he wrote me a touching letter asking for my support to take up the post of librarian at the Sociology Seminary. He was still a very young, shy and modest law graduate. But he showed himself to be something more than a lawyer: he was a lover of the social sciences, and even then he had a rich reading list that went far beyond the codes, open to philosophical as well as historical and sociological questions.

He reminded me of myself, as I had been six or eight years earlier, and he also had to deal with the problem of lack of resources, being the son of a poor widow. I spoke to him and was soon convinced that he had what many lack: the unadorned worm of personal concern. I am still proud of the fact that I recognised his value after just one interview and, above all, that I was able to persuade the professor to appoint him curator, despite the fact that the post was in demand by many old monographers.

I then took him on as a “contractor” to make him a curator. After the census of December 1930, which I had carried out in the Tei district with the students of the seminary, I worked persistently with the demonstration centre of the “Higher School of Social Work” in that district. I thought it might be possible to try to write a monograph on the district, fulfilling an old wish of Professor Gusti’s. So we organised a “get-together” in the local “Athenaeum”, where we showed the film Drăguș, accompanied by a conference in which we explained what we wanted to achieve with the monograph of the Tei district. I took Anton Golopenția with me. At the end of the conference, on a whim of my own, I wandered randomly through the streets on the outskirts of the capital, a walk that lasted most of the night. Anton Golopenția accompanied me, so I was able to talk to him in a friendly way, more than I had been able to before.

In the spring of the same year, I went to Runcu with Brăiloiu, taking Golopenția with me, to acquaint him with the work of a social investigator. A week’s work was enough for Anton Golopenția to understand perfectly what he was talking about and to show an exceptional talent as an investigator who only lacked more experience and, above all, the fixation on his own problem in order to catch up with and then surpass the best monographers. I have never had such a gifted apprentice, not only in the speed with which he understood and mastered his craft, but also in the sharpness of his thinking, always open to wide horizons, with very far-reaching goals, to a future of work that he would achieve at a level of high and multiple erudition.

I still consider him to be the most gifted sociologist among those who participated in our monographic campaigns. Mircea Vulcănescu did not remain among us for too long, and his talent lay more in dealing with abstract ideas than with concrete facts. Traian Herseni, however prepared and gifted he was, seemed to me to lack the warmth of heart and generosity that would have helped him to form a school of thought, or at least a group of disciples, although he had a real talent as a teacher. Golopenția was, however, a synthesis of many of us: a philosopher like Mircea Vulcănescu, a scholar and teacher like Traian Herseni, a researcher like myself, and an organiser as skilful as Octavian Neamțu.

In 1931 he took part in the Cornova campaign, the only one he took part in among those led by Professor Gusti. Then, in 1932 and 1933, Professor Gusti chose him to be his secretary in the Ministry of Education, in addition to his cabinet. After Professor Gusti’s resignation from the Ministry, Golopenția left in 1934 to study, first in Berlin, then in Leipzig, where he obtained his doctorate under Freyer in 1936, after which he returned to Bucharest and resumed his work with us, employed by the Foundation. […]

In 1938, thanks to the efforts of Anton Golopenția, the work of the Foundation’s teams was given a new direction.

Having returned from Germany in 1936 with a doctoral thesis entitled The Information of the State Leadership and the Exaggerated Social Science, he proved to be in opposition to his master Gusti. I talked to him for a long time and realised that what he was thinking was indeed sound, based on a fair criticism of all our work up to that point and a proposal to take a new direction, given the fact that the “school” had matured and was taking more and more seriously the task of combining theory and practice.

Golopenția had good reason to believe that Professor Gusti’s original plan was unworkable. Professor Gusti had stated on several occasions that it would be possible to obtain a more complete knowledge of all the social problems of the country by monographing the more than 15,000 villages in the country, thus creating a “sociology of the nation”. In reality, it was impossible to produce such a large number of monographs. And even if it had been, it was not necessary because there were other methods than ‘monographs’ compiled village by village to achieve the desired results. He proposed the massive use of statistical methods, grouping information into a ‘typology’ of villages and towns, with the ultimate aim of producing a ‘social atlas’.

But the idea was not alien to many of us. Traian Herseni also advocated the idea of a “social atlas”; I myself had tried to study “areas”, not just isolated villages, and I had also used the typology method, at least as far as the villages were concerned, also with a view to finally mapping these types, both populated and unpopulated, in egalitarian and capped villages, in equal and unequal parts, etc. For Golopenția, however, the replacement of isolated village monographs by other methods of investigation had become the guiding idea of all his work. […]

Golopenția’s rather aggressive tone when it came to discussing capital ideas, despite his fundamental gentleness, had the gift of annoying Professor Gusti, who began by calling him an “apostate” and a “rebel”. But it was not difficult for us to resolve the conflict, especially since Professor Gusti had a very lively self-critical spirit, so that he soon became convinced that what Golopenția was proposing was nothing more than a development of his own conception, which could bear good fruit in terms of the work of the Foundation’s teams, without abandoning the idea of the integral monograph.

He therefore gave Golopenția a free hand, and gave me the task of preparing, in parallel with the work on “summary monographs” and “typological” statistical studies, as Golopenția wished, a “classical” monograph on the village of Neret, integrating it into the problem of the whole of Vrancea. […]

But Golopenția’s idea went even further, by giving all the Foundation’s teams the task of producing a common theme, focusing not on the local problems of each village, but on those of importance for the whole country.

In 1938, the Foundation had sent 860 teams to 60 villages and, in agreement with Professor Gusti, the following general themes were chosen “Population and rural demography”, “Development and economic situation of the villages”, “Health and cultural situation”, and an attempt to establish the “typology” of our rural villages. […] Convinced of the seriousness of such an attempt, Gusti ordered the drafting of seven statistical forms, in collaboration with Golopenția, H. H. Stahl, Traian Herseni, Al. Brăbat and T. Ionescu.

The processing of the documents received from the field by the teams was carried out by the Central Institute of Statistics, under the supervision of Anton Golopenția and D. C. Georgescu, and the final drafts were published only in 1941 in the series 60 Romanian Villages, researched by the student teams in the summer of 1938. […]

However, Golopenția’s thinking did not stop there, but went much further, in the sense expressed in his doctoral thesis, according to which the social sciences have a duty to serve the administration within the framework of a state policy. Once again, Professor Gusti took up this idea and formulated it as follows: “In carrying out this survey (of the 60 villages, n.n.), we have also considered the work of educating young people for administrative action. We do not believe that laws, however well thought out, are enough to organise a country thoroughly”. “We have always tried to find the method to train the new generation of administrators” needed for “Romania’s great mission now and in the decades to come”.

Golopenția, who was still developing along the lines of the more accentuated and precise monographic tradition, considered it necessary to place our problems in the social history, not only of Romania, but also of the whole of Southeastern Europe. He spoke Hungarian and German and, like Octavian Neamțu, maintained close relations with sociologists from neighbouring countries, writing comparative sociological studies that were very useful in supporting our interests. I agreed with Golopenția’s way of judging, especially since the emphasis was placed on “scientific research” as the mission of the teams, as opposed to the tendency to give priority to the problems of camp life and direct action, lacking a prior global vision of the problems of social life.

In 1938, I myself had tried to revive the “sociological” interest of team action by organising the school for team leaders in Făgăraș. Golopenția, however, emphasised this action even more by providing for sociological education to play a greater role in the team training schools.

In the Social Service, which we will discuss shortly, Golopenția provided for a week of sociological instruction, and in 1939 he published a 39-page booklet entitled Guidelines for Sociological Instruction in the Youth Social Service Training Schools. The booklet was written exclusively by Golopenția, but without his signature. However, it belongs to him and it is right to regard it as his work. I consider this booklet to be of paramount importance for a correct understanding of social service and the way we thought about social sociology at that time.

(Henri H. Stahl – Memories and thoughts from the old school of “sociological monographs”, Minerva Publishing House, Bucharest, 1981, pp. 290-292, 359-363)

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