Zoltán Rostás, Monografia ca Utopie: Interviuri cu Henri H. Stahl (1985-1987) (The Monograph as Utopia: Interviews with Henri H. Stahl), Ed. Paideia, 2000, 340 pp.
This book is an oral history of the inter-war Bucharest Monographic School, or Gusti School, of Sociology associated with the name of Dimitrie Gusti (1880-1955), the sociologist who inspired and led this effervescent group of rural and urban sociologists. It is in fact a collection of interviews with the most important of the students of Gusti, Henri H. Stahl (1901-1991). Zoltán Rostás, himself a sociologist, undertook an extensive research project in the 1980s using oral history with more than 25 participants of the Gusti School. He conceived this project as aiming to „introduce the experiment in cultural history, in particular the history of sociology, hoping to discover certain hidden aspects of creativity” (p. 5) and to „bring to light information about the every-day life of the Gusti School, the formal, and especially the informal relationships within this group and its milieu” (ibidem). Taking into account the period of the research (the late 1980s), with its political control and generalized surveillance, this project (individual, without official/academic material or symbolic support) is an exceptional one. Even though the author modestly invokes societal, objective conditions (the deep societal divide between the political centralized power and the private sphere) which paradoxically eased the re-collection based on trust in the private sphere, it goes almost without saying that such a project needs a researcher with a remarkable ability to gain the trust of his respondents, as well as a critical mind, courage and honesty. It is, according to my knowledge, the first oral history project in Romania that concerns intellectuals, having as a topic an inter-war cultural movement.
The book is made up of 22 chapters of transcripts of the interviews conducted between 1985 and 1987, every chapter being titled with a relevant phrase of the respective discussion (for example „Millionaire at Vienna,” „A Good Organizer of Social Life,” „I quarrel with Mircea Eliade,” „I was a dissident too,” „Against Gusti”). Rostás used Stahl’s Memoirs published in 1981 as a source of documentation for his questions and the structure of the interviewing sessions. Consequently, for a reader without a good knowledge of the chronology and multiple activities of the Gusti School it would be beneficial to read Stahl’s book. It would also be an interesting exercise in comparison of the differences of remembering in a spontaneous, oral way on the one hand, and the written recollection aiming at publication, on the other.
Regarding the methodology, the interviewers mostly adopted the model of a thick dialogue, rather than one based on a one-way questionnaire, with questions emerging from the answers, and with an interviewer who challenges Stahl’s positions in several situations. Nevertheless, due to the comparative perspective of the larger project (interviews with more members of the Gusti school) there are many factual questions that sometimes interrupt the narrative of the interviewee. For example, almost all participants in the monographic research were bound, due to the insistence (which I sometimes found a bit excessive) of the interviewer, to have information about all the participants, irrespective of their position, involvement, contribution, etc.. Also, the emphasis is on the public, social, rather than personal life, thus the biography of Stahl is not so well captured. (We do not have many references to his family or private life.)
The material of the transcripts is rich, making room for many interpretations and for re-contextualizing this important cultural movement. One can find here important information regarding the activity, structure, conflicts, and alliances within the Gusti School, its position within the larger intellectual, social and political contexts of the inter-war period (including the socialist or extreme-right movement), the peculiarities of the institutionalization of sociology after 1965 in Romania, the constraints, resources and modalities of doing social science research in inter-war and post-1947 Romania, and many other topics. Moreover, there are captivating fragments of discussions in which the octogenarian professor Stahl (in his charming colloquial language) explains, among other things, his methodology and research, make remarks on the oral tradition, folklore, and the echoes of his polemics with Lucian Blaga and Mircea Eliade. He proves to be an excellent portraitist of the character of his colleagues and personalities of the epoch, with his fieldworker eye and subtle psychological observations. For example, in the late 1920s and 1930s, Stahl worked part-time as a stenographer at the Parliament, and has therefore a very good knowledge of the political establishment of the time. It should be the readers’ pleasure to discover these fascinating details. Here I will focus only on several issues which I consider particularly significant.
What was the theoretical and experiential background of Henri H. Stahl prior to meeting Gusti? He read law at the University of Bucharest (law, it seems, was the choice of his father), but he was at the same time engaged in extensive reading of socialist literature, in particular C. Dobrogeanu-Gherea’s Neoserfdom (1910). In addition, he became familiar with the works of Kautsky, Bernstein, David, and the Austro-Marxists. (In 1922 he spent 6 months in Vienna governed by social democrats at that time, where he learnt much about the social reforms carried out by the Viennese administration; see the chapter “Millionaire at Vienna.”) This theoretical and ideological background made him politically a social democrat (a member of the inter-war Social-Democrat Party) and also interested in researching the impact of capitalism on the peasant communities in Romania (see the first two chapters “I was never a fanatic” and “Millionaire at Vienna”). In 1926 he met Dimitrie Gusti who invited him to take part in the second research campaign at Ruşeţu-Brăila, as a juridical specialist. It was the beginning of a long relationship of master and apprentice and collegiality between the two.
One question which is raised is how the “monographic research” direction was conceived, and when was it realized? Dimitrie Gusti, with a Ph.D. in Philosophy, was appointed professor at the University of Iasi in 1910, being a promoter of the empirical research of social life (an influence of his German professor Wilhelm Wundt), in an academic environment speculatively-oriented at that time. Empirical research of the social was also among the concerns of the Association for Study and Social Reform set up in March 1918 at the initiative of Gusti in collaboration with Vasile Pârvan and V. Madgearu. The goals of this association were the study of the problems of the Romanian society, the proposal of solutions for these problems, and the amelioration of the education of larger social groups (among which the peasants were most important). This project was according to the spirit of the times, during the war years, when real reform of social and political life in Romania was a priority and expected by most Romanians. Moreover, Gusti and his colleagues made explicit in their program that in the future reform a pre-eminent role should be assigned to the intellectuals, with knowledge and competence in opposition to most politicians, who, without a clear knowledge of reform and government, took advantage of their power position mainly in order to further their own narrow interests.
In the new political and social context of Greater Romania, the Association moved to Bucharest and transformed into the Romanian Social Institute in 1921, with the same goals as the Association, but more active in the public debates of the time on important issues of reform, with more members and better fund-raising strategies. Gusti remained in the center of all these activities (as president and director of publications) an excellent manager (see the chapter “A good organizer of social life”) for fundraising (from individual donors, but most significantly from state funds), and as a publicist for the Institute. Representation in the international scientific world was assured through the Institute’s journal the Archive for Social Science and Reform (1919-1943), international conferences, and courses and conferences abroad (France, The United States). Also as professor and dean of the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy he could mobilize students and young academics for publication, fieldwork research, and teaching.
The monographic research was elaborated in the Seminar of Sociology at the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters in Bucharest, between 1922 and 1924, the year of the first research campaign. The initial aim was to educate students in empirical research, but later the action became an integrated part of the campaigns. The methodology and theory of the monograph was further modified and improved in the team research during 1926 and 1938 in many villages of Romania.
Who were the participants in the monographic research and what were their relationships with its initiator, D. Gusti? His students in the Seminar of Sociology were, of course, participants for all the campaigns between 1924 and 1931. Several of them were to become loyal collaborators of Gusti for a longer period of time, like Mircea Vulcanescu, Traian Herseni, Anton Golopentia, or Xenia Costa-Foru. Others, like Mitu Georgescu or H. H. Stahl, were students in other faculties, but they were co-opted due to the interdisciplinary character of the research (see chapter “The corkscrew method”). To the field trips were invited also academics or researchers in other fields (physical anthropology, folklore, geography, medicine, economy), such as Francisc Rainer, Constantin Brăiloiu, or Vintilă Mihăilescu. Consequently, the resultant monographic research became more widely known in the broader academic sphere. Gusti also recruited collaborators from other institutions outside of the actual university he was involved with. Between 1932 and 1933, as a Minister of Public Instruction, he had A. Golopenţia and Mircea Vulcănescu as secretaries. As a director of the Royal Foundation of King Carol he employed H. H. Stahl, A. Golopenţia, and others.
Overall, he was a mentor, a leader, and a supporter of his close collaborators. Nevertheless, there were moments which challenged the mentor, of revisions of the master’s doctrine. In the theoretical and methodological domain Stahl and Golopenţia brought significant contributions and changes; the first one with his research on the common property of the village, social history, the impact of the capitalist forms of production in the rural area (see especially pp. 174-179), and the latter with the shift towards monographic research centered on relevant social problems with the aid of statistical analysis (pp. 148-150). Stahl mentions in these interviews two instances where there was a structural conflict between the master and the disciples. The first one was the dilemma by which the monographic research was trapped during its development, that is, standing between professionalization and its pedagogical mission. Gusti, at least between 1924 and 1934, was focusing on the formative aspect of the research, educating the students in empirical research. At the same time, his closer collaborators (Stahl, Vulcănescu, Herseni, Pogoneanu) were arguing for professionalization of the research, with fewer collaborators, but with stable research funds and institutional infrastructure (pp. 94-95). The second instance was related to the refusal of Gusti to remain in the United States in 1939 and later in 1946-1947 and his insistence to return to Romania. According to Stahl (pp. 110-113), this upset his closer collaborators (Stahl, Vulcănescu, Golopenţia, Herseni), who saw in following their professor abroad, if he chose to stay there, the possibility of continuing their careers as sociologists, which was quite impossible in the Romania of that period (with the fascist and later communist regime).
Was this a unified group in terms of political ideology? No, the Gusti school encompassed individuals of all political orientations of the inter-war Romania, such as the extreme left (Miron Constantinescu), social-democrats (Stahl), and the extreme right (
M. Vulcănescu, T. Herseni, Ernest Bernea). Stahl does give us some important information concerning the history of the inter-war intellectual and political context, for example the Criterion movement (pp. 217-223) in which he participated, and details concerning the sympathy for or participation of most young intellectuals in the fascist movement (chapter “The Rhinoceros”). Nevertheless, during this period, Gusti and most of his collaborators steered clear of any direct party involvement or affiliation.
Was the Gusti school then apolitical? No, at least after 1934, when Gusti became the director of the Royal Foundation of King Carol, he started his campaign for action in the rural area using state-funds and larger teams of students. The Gusti School promoted a sociology of the nation-state and was in fact a state sociology. For example, one important aspect was the issue of representation of the state at various international exhibitions. The Gusti School provided the competence and the prestige of organizing the Romanian section at the International Exhibition in Paris (1937) and New York (1939) and other international events. At the national level, the Gusti School assured the conception and realization of the Village Museum (1936), a representation of the diversity of rural Greater Romania. Moreover, Gusti and his collaborators were instrumental in the adoption of the Social Service law (adopted in October 1938, suspended in October 1939), an important part of the cultural politics of the state under King Carol II (pp. 110-112). This law stipulated mandatory “social service” for all intellectuals, in fact participation for some months in the actions for reforming the life of the villages. Also, for many members of the Gusti school the state institutions (the Central Institute of Statistics, the Superior School of Social Work, the Cultural Foundation Carol II, etc.) provided professional careers where their professional expertise was needed.
Finally, why “monograph as utopia”? According to Stahl (pp. 76, 98), Gusti’s formula of an exhaustive monograph was utopian, since the ambition to combine highly advanced research with action was unrealistic. Moreover, the program formulated by Gusti in 1938 in his article Science of the Nation to realize monographs of all villages and towns in Romania in order to obtain the science of the nation was indeed utopian in terms of resources but also as an ambition to exhaust the social reality.
Nevertheless, reading this book one can propose also an alternative title: “the Gusti monographic school as retrotopia,” since it contains enough arguments to reconstruct an image of the inter-war school as the “Golden Age” of the Romanian sociology. And it is here where I find that the reception of the book in the context of contemporary Romanian sociology will be ambiguous, with two “parallel” readings. On the one hand, the conservative, protochronist wing of Romanian sociology (the most socially visible and ideologically active) will speculate on the retrotopian potential, providing yet one more instance of the “glorious past” of Romanian sociology. On the other hand, the critical sociology, or the sociology involved in the analysis of the reform process in Romania, will find numerous examples of critical thinking, real engagement with social problems, examples of innovative research, and intellectual solidarity.
 Graduated in 1970 from the Faculty of Philosophy-Sociology of Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj, Zoltán Rostás worked in mass media (including TV and the cultural press). After 1989, he was professor at the Faculty of Journalism at the University of Bucharest. Due to health problems, he completed his Ph.D. in Sociology at Babes-Bolyai University (supervisor: Ernö Gáll) only in 1999: “An Oral History of the Bucharest School of Sociology.”
 There is an aspect not addressed by the author in his preface to the book, which is generally present in the anthropological and oral historical literature, that is, the subject position of the researcher, his/her motivations for chosing the topic, the obstacles overcome (or not) during the research, etc.. It would be interesting to know if his outsider position relative to the Gusti School helped Rostás in his research or on the contrary, put him in a difficult position (reaction-type: “You cannot understand because you weren’t there.”)
 Henri H. Stahl, Amintiri şi Gînduri din Vechea coală a ‘Monografiilor Sociologice’ (Bucharest: Minerva, 1981).
 A useful source of data, chronologically organized, is the book of Marin Diaconu, Şcoala Sociologică a lui Dimitrie Gusti: Documentar Sociologic, vol. I (1880-1933) (Bucharest: Eminescu, 2000).
 In a letter addressed to Stahl in 1934, A. Golopenţia pleaded for a public engagement of the monographic school to affirm their distinct voice based on the grass-roots knowledge of the Romanian realities to combat the demagogic and dogmatic discourse of the legionaries and the disorientation and evasionism of the spiritualist generation: “It is necessary for the monographists to bring something from their attitude, revolutionized through the contact with reality [of rural Romania]. Since they see themselves as being different from the ‘essayists’ at the top of the generation and they are not ‘guardists’ (Iron Guard) either, they have the duty to affirm their formula… . I wrote to the Professor that we cannot continue with the superstition of scientific objectivity which excludes political action.” (Anton Golopenţia, Ceasul Misiunilor Reale, Romanian Cultural Foundation, 1999, p. 320).
 See Mihai Dinu Gheorghiu, “Specificul Naţional în Sociologia Românească,” in Al. Zub (ed.), Cultură şi Societate: Studii Privitoare la Trecutul Românesc (Bucharest: Ed. Ştiinţifică, 1991).
 Dimitrie Gusti, “Ştiinţa Naţiunii,” in Enciclopedia României (Bucharest: 1938), p. 17-30.
 I borrow this term from István Rév, “Retrotopia: Critical Reason Turns Primitive,” Current Sociology, April 1998, Vol. 46 (2): 51-80.