Diffusion in Anthropology Essay

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Kelly O’Byrne Anthropology Theory Paper 10/24/12 Diffusion Diffusionists first questioned cultural differences within the world in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and wondered about the similarities between widely dispersed cultures. Their theory was that cultures originally came from specific places in the world and then spread over time to other countries by diffusion. These societies changed by cultural borrowing from each other. Cultural diffusion is “the spreading of a thing, an idea, or a behavior pattern from one culture to another”(Ferraro 45). Even though inventions have a major effect on our society, the number is small. Linton claims only 10 percent of things found in a culture are actually originated there. If cultures relied only on the resources and ideas found in their own surroundings, the progress of human beings would be much slower. These shared inventive and creative materials have made cultures grow rapidly, and it was all from the process of diffusion. Whenever a culture combines with another culture they don’t transfer every cultural material, and at times can be selective. If all items were mixed, then there would be few to no cultural differences here on earth. Sometimes when diffusion occurs within a culture it is not always accepted. An example from the text is how Americans have not adopted the idea of the metric system because they don’t see the point of learning a whole new mathematic concept. However, if U.S. citizens did develop this skill they would be able to interface better with the rest of the world. A major proponent was William Graham Sumner, who discussed the first developed civilization in ancient Egypt and how it dispersed to other cultures. Another person associated with diffusion is a more modern proponent named Thor Heyerdahl, who said that the Polynesian culture originated in ancient Peru.
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