Process and Concept of Diffusion

Process and Concept of Diffusion

Last updated: November 19, 2019

What is Diffusion?


  • The word diffusion is not a matter of Sociology.
  • It is taken from the natural sciences.
  • It is used in chemistry to explain diffusion of gases.
  • The word is taken out a Latin word “Defender” which means – to spread out.
  • Before sociology,  it was used in anthropology for the study of culture.
  • Diffusion is a process in which one cultural trait, material objects, ideas, or behavior pattern is spread from one society to another society.
  • It can be intentional or unintentional.
  • Have both positive and negative consequences.
  • Diffusion is also known as cultural diffusion.
  • It is also the process through which innovations are introduced into an organization or social group, sometimes called the diffusion of innovations.
  • Things that are spread through diffusion include ideas, values, concepts, knowledge, practices, behaviors, materials, and symbols.

Meaning of Diffusion:

  • There are many cultures in the world that contact in one way or another with one another.
  • The process of diffusion is due to the spread of cultural traits.
  • Both the material and non-material cultural traits transmit from one society to another.
  • Material traits spread quickly while non-material take more time and spread gradually.
  • For example, the teachings of Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) are spread from society to society is the diffusion of culture.

Concept of Diffusion:

  • In the 1962 book, Diffusion of Innovations, Everett Rogers defines sociological diffusion of innovation as a process in a social system where an innovative idea or concept is spread by members of the social group through certain channels.
  • He identifies four elements that influence how and how quickly a new idea spreads:
    • The innovation itself
    • The types of communication channels used
    • The amount of time the social group is exposed to the innovation
    • The nature of the social group

Characteristics of Diffusion:

  • The adoption of a cultural trait by a group depends on the meaningfulness and usefulness of the trait to the social-economic life.
  • The original form of cultural trait needs not to be retained during the course of cultural diffusion.
  • Diffusion is from a more to less culture that is from developed to underdeveloped.
  • It may create a cultural change in the group that borrows.
  • There is always a barrier associated with diffusion.

Principles of Diffusion:

  • There are many different theories of diffusion that have been offered by anthropologist and sociologist, but the elements common to them, that can be considered general principles of Diffusion which are as follows: –
    • The society or social groups that borrows elements from another will alter or adapt those elements to fit within their own culture.
    • Typically, it is only elements of a foreign culture that fit into the already existing belief system of the host culture that will be borrowed.
    • Those cultural elements that do not fit within the host culture’s existing belief system will be rejected by the members of the social group.
    • Cultural elements will only be accepted within the host culture if they are useful within it.
    • Social groups that borrow cultural elements are more likely to borrow again in the future.

Definition of Diffusion:

  • According to Herskovits, “Cultural diffusion is the achieved cultural transmission.”
  • Krober defines it as “The spread of one cultural elements both material and non-material to the other is called cultural diffusion.”
  • In simple words “The process by which cultural traits of one society directly or indirectly spread to the other society is called cultural diffusion.

Schools of Diffusion:

      • The American School of diffusionism
      • The German School of diffusionism
      • The British School of diffusionism

American school of diffusionism:

  • led by Franz boas emerged to discredit the universal sequence by classical evolutionists.
  • It also fills the gap between the German school of diffusion.
  • Explains the reasons for diffusion.

Basic premises of American school of diffusion:

  • The diffusion of culture is one place to another due to imitation.
  • Borrowing the traits from one culture at times than to invent them is easier.
  • The groups which borrows a cultural trait adapt it to suit the need of its own culture.
  • Thus diffusion and modification are two principles that operate.
  • The diffusion traits are more similar in area residing in a particular geography.
  • The process of diffusion is more prevalent in cultural groups residing in close contact with one another.
  • To explain diffusion,  they devised a methodology called the cultural area approach.
  • According to this, The world is divided into various culture areas on the basis of geographic regions.
  • The geographic aspects of culture are in despicable in studying cultural area.

Critics of Cultural area approach:

  • It cannot translate itself into a viable empirical method.
  • There is no method to establish a boundary.
  • Extreme caution is required in delimited the cultural area where the distribution of the population is characterized by social stratification.
  • By dividing the world into the region, The scope of this becomes narrow as it cannot be applied to world wide diffusion of the culture.
  • Acculturation.

Accomplishments of Diffusion:

  • It resulted in the creation of cultural area which contiguous cultural elements in a relatively with small geopolitical units.
  • Through replaced by a more holistic approach it still has value in ethnological science.
  • Acculturation studies have helped to give insight into problems encounter when people from diverse cultures come into a dominant culture.

British School of Diffusion:

  • The main advocators of British advocators are- G.E Smith W.J Perry W.H Rivers G Eliot Smith.
  • It is considered as extreme diffusionist and anti-diffusionist.
  • This School is also known as pan Egyptian school or heliocentric school because for them, Everything was started by Egypt and then spread.
  • It has the greatest weakness as its anti-revolutionary stance and its conviction on the non-intentness of the human mind.
  • They were extremely biased and heliocentric and didn’t consider other civilizations at all.

The German school of Diffusion:

  • The main advocators of German school are- Friedrich Ratzel, William Schmidt and Leo Frobenius.
  • This approach was thrown the analysis of cultural complex identifying geographical and studied as they spread and development historically.
  • It has both time and space dimensions.
  • More refined in their approach compared to their British counterparts.
  • They were not extremists and anti-evolutionist.
  • Though they profounded diffusionism, it also touched the evolutionary scheme.
  • The main difference was that the British School believes in a heliocentric approach weil German School believes that culture sprang up with a different time in different places.
  • Inventions and discoveries are continuous processes and they reach others by the process of migration.
  • According to them different cultures and districts or circles develop at different places due to diffusion.
  • It has given importance to both culture and evolution.

Process of Diffusion:

  • Sociological diffusion occurs when a social group or organization develops an innovation: a new idea or behavior.
  • The diffusion of innovations provides insights into the process of social change: one can observe the qualities that make an innovation successfully spread and the importance of communication and networks.
  • A new idea is diffused through a decision-making process with five steps which is given by Rogers:-
    • Knowledge – An individual first becomes aware of the new innovation, but lacks information and inspiration
    • Persuasion – The individual’s interest in the innovation spikes, and he or she begins to research
    • Decision – The individual weighs the positive and negative results of changing to the new idea
    • Implementation – The individual adds innovation to the system. At this stage, he or she also begins to determine the innovation’s usefulness.
    • Confirmation – The individual decides to continue with the new innovation.
  • The key part of the five stages is the decision; this is the main reason why diffusion exists.
  • The decision to either adopt or reject the idea is vitally important.
  • Those responsible for evaluating innovations either determine that the new concept is likely to provide future success, and adopt it, or determine that it is likely to be a failure, and continue to move forward in search of other ideas.
  • It is counterproductive for an organization to invest time, energy, and in most cases money, into a poorly developed or bad idea.


  • Diffusionism as an anthropological school of thought was an attempt to understand the nature of culture in terms of the origin of culture traits and there spread from one society to another.
  • In another word, the spread of cultural items from one place of origin to another.
  • Diffusion emerged as an anti-evolutionist thought and was highly critical of the evolutionary school and its premise of the psychic unity of man.
  • It emphasizes the idea that human is basically uninventive and more important inventions spread through diffusion.

Process and Concept of Diffusion

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Process and Concept of Diffusion What is Diffusion Introduction to Diffusion Meaning of Diffusion Characteristics of Diffusion Thoughts and Schools of the Diffusion American school of the Diffusion British school of  the Diffusion German school of Diffusion  Principles of Diffusion Conclusion

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