Monografia ca utopie, Interviuri cu Henri H. Stahl (1985-1987)

TitleMonografia ca utopie, Interviuri cu Henri H. Stahl (1985-1987)
Publication TypePublication review
AuthorsMomoc, Antonio
Author(s) of reviewed materialRostas, Zoltan
Title in EnglishMonograph as Utopia – Interviews with Henri H. Stahl (1985-1987)


PublisherBucharest: Paideia Publishing House
ISBN Number973-8064-44-9
Review year


Full Text

Zoltan Rostas’s “Monography as Utopia – Interviews with H. H. Stahl” is an oral history of the Romanian Sociological School. It is an oral history of the emergence of the discipline under King Carol II in the inter-war period and of its premature and temporary disappearance under the communist regime – sociology was purged from social sciences in 1948 which meant its disappearance from the Romanian academic world as a discipline. After 1949, the Stalinist ideologists blamed the Sociological School of Bucharest and its creator, Dimitrie Gusti with having ignored the rural conflicts and the class struggle of the peasants in their studies.

In the early 1960s there was a communist ideological reevaluation of ‘the great scientific patrimony of the Romanian people’ and of the fundamental Romanian personalities. One of its consequences was that in 1965 Dimitrie Gusti was recognized as someone who has tried to draw Romania closer to the Soviet Union in a time (1932-1933) when he was a Minister of Education for the National Peasants’ Party. During the 1980s, the researchers emphasized the ‘specific nature of the Romanian sociological concepts’: on the one hand, the Sociological School of Bucharest was still accused of having rejected the Marxist-Leninist revolution, but on the other hand it was praised for its ‘nationalist tools of sociological analysis.’ After the 1989 Romanian Revolution, the sociologists began to blame the censorship prevalent in the 1960s and 1980s and a new era began when Dimitrie Gusti was considered a ‘great cultural personality’ and the previous approaches were denied. The Romanian sociologists who wrote about Dimitrie Gusti after 1990 claimed that Gusti ought to be treated as a ‘great sociologist, founder of the Sociological School, creator of a sociological system recognized globally.’

Zoltan Rostas’s “Monography as Utopia” book represents a new version of the history of sociology in Romania and also the story of a life, that of H. H. Stahl’s life, one of the most important disciples of Dimitrie Gusti. H. H. Stahl is one of the many monographists recorded on tape by Rostas. Their discussion is only a part of a greater oral history project about the Sociology School of Bucharest. [1] Let me remark that Rostas’s oral history project was treated with suspicion by many of the Romanian historians of sociology – they used to say that there were not many things left to discover about the Sociology School of Bucharest, because “everything had been already told.”

Rostas’s book discusses the history of the Sociology School of Bucharest from a scientific perspective that differs from those of previous researches. Romanian historians dealing with sociological ideas might claim there is nothing more to say about Gusti’s School, but Rostas innovatively applies the oral history method and the tools of organizational sociology when he depicts the beginning of the Romanian School of Sociology. [2] In the twenty-two chapters of “Monography as Utopia,” we witness a suite of dialogues of two people (Rostas and Stahl) who were unable to imagine in the 1980s that theirs conversations would ever be released. (The dialogues took place in the roughest communist period, in the years 1985-1987 and they were at times interrupted because the electricity was cut off – a rather common and characteristic “economic policy” of the times.)

Zoltan Rostas does not only enumerate unique historical events, nor were the discussions strictly guided by certain interview questions – the oral history interview is supposed to encourage people to make digressions. Zoltas Rostas warns the reader in his Introduction that for the method’s sake he did not apply any changes to the taped materials and he did not improve the information using the bibliography of the book.

In a seemingly ‘innocent’ manner, Zoltan Rostas asks H. H. Stahl questions about each participant at Dimitrie Gusti’s school. Stahl’s lines were actually his memories about each monographist. He praised some of them, while he could no longer remember others at all. H. H. Stahl paints the monographists’ portrait, narrates his memories about the inter-war state of mind of the intellectuals and speaks about his affinities with the social democrats. Crucially, Stahl describes Gusti’ School of Sociology as free of political ideology. The Sociological School of Bucharest was the meeting place for students and specialist with different degrees who were leading the social research work in the Romanian villages under the supervision of Professor Dimitrie Gusti. As a graduate of the Law School, H. H. Stahl was one of the leaders of the research teams. 

Inter-war Romania was about eighty percent rural. The aim of Gusti’s National Project was to research all the Romanian villages in order to discover the precise needs of the Romanian peasants, the large majority of the population, so that the state institutions could improve their standard of living. Rostas believes this to be the reason why Gusti’ School of Sociology came into direct competition with the Legionary Movement. The Legionaries wanted the peasants to be on their political side, while Gusti’s students were attending the village campaigns in the 1920s only to do social research work. The Legionaries were trying to enroll the peasants from the ideological and political points of view. In the 1920s Gusti managed to put himself aside from the political battlefield. In the 1930s the village campaigns were rather in favor of King Carol II. The King has financed the Sociological School of Bucharest, using the teams of Gusti in a propagandistic manner in order to counterattack the Legionary Movement. This motivates Stahl to state that the Monograph is more like a Utopia.  

When H. H. Stahl digresses from the discussions about the School of Sociology, he mocks or praises the acquaintances and friends of his youth. The interviews provides an image of the life of intellectuals under King Carol II and all the way to the harsh communist times, when Gheorghe-Gheorghiu Dej ruled: we read about the inter-war generation, writers and scientists, the naive communists, mystique legionaries (fascists), idealists or villains. Stahl blames the historian Mircea Eliade for not having sufficiently studied Romanian myths. In Stahl’s opinion, the nihilist philosopher, Emil Cioran’s complains are pathetic. Eugen Ionesco, the playwriter is considered a poor boy who mocks the famous contemporary writers. Stahl claims that Mihail Sebastian, a novelist who admired the legionary politician Nae Ionescu, was “juggling with the Michael Archangel’s Legion.” These are iconoclastic statements in Romania.

The plague of legionarism fills an entire chapter of the book. Stahl illustrated the legionarism as a process of becoming rhinos: “You were coming at Corso Restaurant, sitting at a table, taking part at the discussions... One, two, three years in a row, until you noticed the one by one your friends became legionaries. Actually, I am convinced that this is the idea that Eugen Ionesco wanted to expose through his theatre play entitled “The Rhinos.” How on Earth did Constantin Noica got involved with the Legion? What attracted Mircea Eliade towards it? It was certainly a social dementia, an epidemic.” (p. 28)

Communism and fascism were contagious diseases in the inter-war period. Stahl considers the Sociology School of Bucharest as an oasis unaffected by political ideologies. It was a very appropriate institution for scientific research: “People who never got in contact with the Legion or who acted opposite to the Legionary Movement gathered around Gusti.” (page 41)

Starting with the first chapter of the book, Stahl explains how he started to study sociology: he was fascinated by the social democrat Dobrogeanu Gherea, he read the works of the historian Nicolae Iorga and he chose to study the Romanian village together with Dimitrie Gusti. “Dobrogeanu Gherea’s thesis was that Romania was a patriarchal country in contact with capitalism. I was sure that Gherea understood capitalism. In my opinion, he did not know anything about an undeveloped patriarchal country. Nicolae Iorga had a totally different view. He believed that the Romanian country did not experience feudalism. The Romanian peasants were always free and constantly lived in shared villages. I was preoccupied with these thoughts and therefore went to Gusti. I enlisted in the Sociology School not because I cared about Sociology, but because I wanted to do research in the Romanian villages... Gherea might have been right, but he did not have a clue about the Romanian village.” (pages 11-17)

This is how Stahl begun to explore the Romanian rural areas and to write studies about the shared villages. In the Sociology School, H. H. Stahl did fieldwork, investigated Romanian villages with the help of the interdisciplinary teams. This is what led to the emergence of the first Department of Rural Sociology in Bucharest. This was the first Department of the kind in the world – village research of the kind conducted in Romania was the first.

Monografia ca utopie, Interviuri cu Henri H. Stahl (1985-1987) can be read both as a theoretical lesson of sociology and as a book presenting a new, alternative history of the School. At the same time, as Stahl states, the only way to learn about sociology is by doing fieldwork – while Gusti’s students thought they were using the monographic method, in fact they only tried to do applied sociology. In sum, one does not need too much perspicacity to realize that Monografia ca utopie, Interviuri cu Henri H. Stahl (1985-1987) constitutes a new social document on Romanian intellectuals in the inter-war period. The honesty of these confessions and the Stahl’s straight declarations transform this interview into a social document worthy of comparison with the famous Journal of writer Mihail Sebastian. This is an important contribution, also beyond the world of Romanian sociology.


[1] The following books belong to the same project: “An oral history of the Sociology School of Bucharest”, Printech Publishing House, Bucharest, 2001; “The bright room. The first monographists of Gusti’s School of Sociology”, Paideia Publishing House, Bucharest, 2003; “Gusti’s Workshop, An organizational approach”, Tritonic Publishing House, Bucharest, 2005, “The interrupted route. The students of Gusti’s School of Sociology in the ‘30s”, Paideia Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006.

[2] For example in “An oral history of the Sociology School of Bucharest”, Printech Publishing House, Bucharest, 2001 and in “Gusti’s Workshop. An organizational approach”, Tritonic Publishing House, Bucharest, 2005