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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a trend in bourgeois ethnology and archaeology encompassing a number of related schools. Diffusionism explains the development of cultures not in terms of their independent evolution but primarily or even exclusively in terms of cultural borrowings and migrations of peoples.

Diffusionism arose at the turn of the 20th century as a reaction to positivist evolutionism, contrasting the evolutionist view of complete uniformity in cultural development with the concept of absolute diversity in cultural development, disrupted only where borrowings or migrations govern cultural similarity. Subsequent diffusionism substitutes development in time by displacement in space (the German scholars L. Frobenius and F. Graebner) and denies the unity of the historical process (the Austrian scholars W. Schmidt and W. Koppers). Attempts were made to use diffusionism to develop racist theories, ascribing an exclusive cultural role to certain peoples or races (the Austrian scholar O. Menghin and the German scholar G. Kossinna). Marxist ethnology, archaeology, and sociology considers cultural influences and migrations as an important but not the determining factor in cultural and historical development.


Artanovskii, S. N. Istoricheskoe edinstvo chelovechestva i vzaimnoe vliianie kul’tur. Leningrad, 1967.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Haddon, had already been promoting diffusionism at Cambridge (see Haddon, 1895; Costall, 1991).
As we will see, Diderot implies that diffusionism could not prove more mistaken, since the most astute cultural wisdom provided in this narrative is offered not by a European, but by Orou, a Tahitian.
The point is not that "diffusionism" is now discredited and that "independent development" is now the preferred analytical tool concerning the structure of African cultures.
During one and a half centuries, social sciences as well as applied social sciences employed several anthropological theories to social movements, such as the Theories of Progress, Diffusionism and Functionalism, to understand how a society evolves and competes in an industrial era.
Blaut has called eurocentric diffusionism, that is, a system of ideas based on the assumption that the world has an Inside and an Outside, and that world history is basically the history of the Inside.
The complicity of these (opposing) ways of thinking about the primitive is evident in contemporary ethnographic works, like those of Tylor, which simultaneously formulate and apply the anthropological theories of evolutionism and diffusionism. Johannes Fabian remarks the shared consequences of these hypotheses by arguing that the diffusionist understanding of "culture history" disregards "the evolutionist concern with temporal sequence in favor of a model of spatial distribution" (18-19).
Where nineteenth-century approaches relied on ideas of diffusionism and evolutionism, twentieth-century thinking has shifted through motif analysis, formalism, structuralism (used mainly in relation to narrative), and performance studies (Finnegan, Oral Literature, 26-47, 315-34).
Such claims drew on the grammars of Christianity as well as Western scientific discourses--at that time, needless to say--preoccupied with diffusionism and the search for origins.
Blaut, The Colonizer's Model of the World: Geographical Diffusionism and Eurocentric History (New York: Guilford, 1993); Andrew Sluyter, Colonialism and Landscape: Postcolonial Theory and Applications (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002).