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cultural diffusion
DEFINITION: In anthropology, the transmission or borrowing of certain culture traits from the group of origin into a foreign group; usually technological elements rather than those of social organization. This term defines the spread of ideas, traits, or people from one area to another -- not necessarily implying the movement of people, since trade and the adoption of new ideas from neighboring cultures are reasonable explanations of diffusion. The diffusion of new ideas can come, however, from the peaceful or warlike expansion of a population into new territory. The theory of diffusion was used in the past to explain the beginning of most new ideas: it was assumed that technological skills such as metalworking, or the building of large monumental structures, could only have begun in one place, whence they diffused to other areas. It is now clear, through the use of new dating techniques, that independent invention was certainly possible and probable for many new ideas.
SYNONYMS OR RELATED TERMS: cultural diffusion; diffusionism; diffusionist approach; diffusionist
CATEGORY: term; technique
DEFINITION: The process whereby cultural traits, idea, or objects are spread or transmitted from one culture or society to another. It may be carried by folk movement, war, or trade, or imitation. Diffusion has played a major part in human development by spreading ideas and techniques more rapidly than they could have spread had they been independently invented. Primary diffusion occurs when people migrate and take their habits with them. When ideas or customs, but not the people who have them, move, it is secondary diffusion. The spread of agriculture in North America was secondary diffusion. The burden of proof is on the diffusionist to show that the trait is the same in the two areas, that communication between the two was possible, and that there are no difficulties in the relative dates. In a great number of cases these criteria can be met and diffusion is an important explanatory concept in culture history. The theory popularized by V.G. Childe, who said that all the attributes of civilization from architecture to metalworking had diffused from the Near East to Europe.
modified diffusionism
DEFINITION: A form of diffusionist theory, espoused by V. Gordon Childe and others, that allowed for some local cultural evolution.

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