Diffusionism: Introduction and British School of Diffusion for Competitive Exams

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Diffusionism: Introduction and British School Of Diffusion (Anthropology)


  • 19th Century evolutionists were well aware that a full understanding of culture required explanations of both their similarities and differences. They were of view that similarities emerged, because of mental uniformity and caused mankind to react in the same way to uniform environmental conditions.
  • Cultures in the same stage of development were not related, because a greater or lesser part of the cultural inventory was discovered freely. When uniform traits appeared in the area far apart and without historical contact, it was accepted that they had evolved separately. Thus, similar parallel inventions were the strongest proof of ‘psychic unity’
  • During 20th century, several schools of thought appeared in Britain, American and Germany that claimed to be anti-evolutionists even maintained that culture traits were more often invented than imitated. Diffusion does not necessarily deny evolution, but it certainly interferes in the neatness of evolutionary schemes.
  • Diffusion is taking over of traits by imitation, while migration implies that culture carrier broke away from their original settlements and moved to other parts of the world taking their cultural inventory with them, but adapting it to new environmental conditions.
  • In history, certain societies or places have served as centres from where cultural traits have spread to other parts of the world. These centres of cultural diffusion were more progressive societies and developed rapidly by invention and discovery.
    • Egypt was, for many centuries a cultural centre from where cultural traits in the field of arts and political organization spread to north-west in Europe and to east as far as India.
    • Rome was a great culture centre , from where Roman law spread in most countries in Europe.
    • In Asia, Chinese middle kingdom was a dominant cultural centre, where cultural traits spread throughout Asiatic mainland.

Conditions Related to Cultural Diffusion

Conditions Related to Cultural Diffusion
Conditions Related to Cultural Diffusion

Schools of Diffusion

  • Diffusionists have not shown unanimity on the question as to which was the place from where culture traits reached in other parts of the world. As a result of differences in their opinions, the diffusionists are divided into three schools, namely,
Schools of Diffusion

Schools of Diffusionism

Schools of Diffusionism

British School of Diffusion

  • British School of Diffusion is also known as Pan-Egyptian School. This school came into being too late in the history of anthropology, but was first to disappear. Elliot Smith was the founder of this school and W. J. Perry was his true follower. They are designated as extreme diffusionists and Egyptogist, because for them, Egypt was the only centre of culture from where culture traits diffused or migrated to rest parts of the world.
British School of Diffusion

Grafton Elliot Smith (1871 - 1937)

Grafton Elliot Smith
  • Elliot Smith was basically an anatomist by profession. On his first visit to Egypt, he became a great admirer of Egypt. Upon his return to Cambridge, he was surprised to see similarities between Egyptian Complex of large stone monuments in association with Sun worship. In his famous book entitled ‘The Origin of Civilization’ was published in 1928. He emphasized upon Egypt as the origin of civilization
  • Ancient Egypt invented a full-fledged system of hydraulic agriculture, invented necessary items like pottery, weaving, the wheel, plough and writing. They began to build cities and established law, government and religion. They mummified dead bodies and built graves in the name of the dead.
  • Smith was well aware that man was more older than civilization. He called all the people outside the civilization as natural man. He described their culture or collection of negative traits, because there was no clothing, housing, ornaments, government, burials, etc. He was rather unique in his attempt to deprive natural man even of magic.
  • He popularized the idea that man was basically uninventive. Thus, he discarded the idea of multiple origin, independent invention, psychic unity, progress and survivals.


Q1. Which of the following is not a condition for adoption of a cultural trait by a cultural group?

  1. The trait must be meaningful, economical or socially sustainable for the new group.
  2. Trait does not change and is adopted in its original form.
  3. cultural traits always flow from high culture to low culture.
  4. The new traits might lead to cultural changes adopted by the other group.

Answer: (B)

Q2. Who among the following does not belong to British diffusionist school?

  1. G. E. Smith
  2. W. J. Perry
  3. W. H. R. Rivers
  4. L. Frobenius

Answer: (d) L. Frobenius

Q3. Which of the following is Known as ‘Pan-Egyptian School’ ?

  1. British Diffusionist School
  2. German Diffusionist School
  3. American Diffusionist School
  4. None of the above

Answer: (a) British Diffusionist School

Q4. The book entitled ‘The Origin of Civilization’ was written by

  1. V. G. Childe
  2. W. H. R. Rivers
  3. G. E. Smith
  4. F. Ratzel

Answer: (c) G. E. Smith


#Conditions related to diffusion of a cultural trait.

#Schools of Diffusionism

#British School of Diffusionism.

#G. E. Smith

#Anthropological theories

#Socio-Cultural Anthropology


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