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The diffusion of ideas or artifacts from one culture to another is a well-attested and uncontroversial concept of cultural anthropology. For example, the practice of agriculture is widely believed to have diffused from somewhere in the Middle East to all of Eurasia, less than 10,000 years ago. Other established examples of diffusion include the smelting of iron in ancient times, and the use of cars in the 20th century.
In 1962, Everett Rogers published his seminal book on Diffusion of innovations. The book is now in its fifth edition and Rogers is widely regarded as the father of studies into how and why cultures adopt new innovations.
Mechanism of diffusion
Cultural diffusion can happen in many ways. Migrating populations will carry their culture with them. Ideas can be carried by trans-cultural visitors, such as merchants, explorers, soldiers, diplomats, slaves, hired artisans. Trans-cultural marriages between two neighboring or interspersed cultures will also do the trick. Among literate societies, diffusion can happen through letters or books (and, in modern times, through other media as well).
Everett Rogers proved that, for diffusion of innovations, people consider awareness, interest, evaluation, trial, and adoption, and are influenced by change agents and opinion leaders. His theory outlines a model for diffusion of innovations.
- Heliocentric diffusion -- the theory that all cultures originated from one culture
- Culture circles (kulturkreise ) -- the theory that cultures originated from a small number of cultures
- Evolutionary diffusion -- the theory that societies are influenced by others and that all humans share psychological traits that make them equally likely to innovate, resulting in development of similar innovations in isolation
- Biblical diffusionism -- all culture started with Adam; during the Renaissance, this theory was formalized as the great chain of being.
Major contributors to diffusion research and theory include:
- Franz Boas
- Leo Frobenius
- Fritz Graebner
- A.C. Haddon
- Thor Heyerdahl
- A.L. Kroeber
- Freidrich Ratzel
- W.H.R. Rivers
- Everett Rogers
- Father Pater Wilhelm Schmidt
- Grafton Elliot Smith
- William Graham Sumner
- W.J. Perry
- E.B. Tylor
- Clark Wissler
- Juilet Tuff
- Pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact
- Diffusion of innovations
- Everett Rogers, pioneer of diffusion of innovations theory
- "Diffusionism and Acculturation" by Gail King and Meghan Wright, Anthropological Theories, M.D. Murphy (ed.), Department of Anthropology, College of Arts and Sciences, The University of Alabama
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