German School of Diffusionism for Competitive Exams

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British School of Diffusionism: British, German, and American Schools of Diffusionism (Anthropology)

Schools of Diffusionisms

Schools of Diffusionism

German School of Thought

  • German or Australian continental diffusionists are considered superior to British counterparts in their outlook, methodological approaches and ideologies.
  • Believing in theory of cultural diffusion, German diffusionists also touched evolutionary schemes.
  • They were of the view that different cultural complex originated independently or freely, at several parts of earth, from where they imitated or migrated to other places.
  • According to German diffusionist thought, Inventions and discoveries were continuous process. Discoveries can occur at several places by several generations. They accepted the theory of diffusion as well as evolution both for cultural development and growth.

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  • As they talk about spread of culture trait from one circle to another or from one district to another, their school is also known as Kulture Kreise School or ‘Culture Circle’ School or ‘Culture District’ School.

Friedrich Ratzel (1844 - 1904)

Friedrich Ratzel (1844 - 1904)
  • He wrote many volumes on Anthropo-geography, emphasizing upon the relation between anthropology and geography
  • According to him, the most important consideration was to discover from where cultural traits came and where they went.
  • He agreed to the view that due to environmental variations, there has to be cultural differences.
  • Ratzel believed in the principle of Criterion of Form. According to it, he observed that borrowing must have taken place in some societies which resulted in similarities in cultural traits. Applying this principle to African bow and arrow, he observed that cross section of bow shaft, the fasterings of bow strings and the feathering of the arrows were quite like those in Indonesia.

Leo Frobenius (1873 - 1938)

Schools of Diffusionisms
  • He observed that historical connections usually implied much more than transmission of single culture traits, because often whole cultural complexes are involved.
  • He concluded that migration was an important factor of explanation than diffusion in explanation of cultural similarities.
  • He developed the geographical criteria which meant the number of similarities must be counted and biological criteria which meant internal changes in a cultural society must also be taken into account.
  • He also took consideration, the study of mythology

Frietz Graebner (1877 - 1934)

  • He emerged as the main leader of Kulture Kreise School. He applied the culture circle and strata idea on a world basis.
  • He spelled out the methodological principles of the culture circle movement in his famous book Methodder Ethnology published in 1911.
  • He propounded two basic rules in connection to culture circle or culture district and culture strata:
    • Criterion of Form as called by Graebner or Criteria of Quality termed by Schimdt. It states that similarities between two culture elements which do not automatically arise out of nature, material purpose of traits or objects, should be interpreted as resulting from diffusion, regardless of the distance which separates the two instances.
    • Criterion of Quantity: It states that the probability of historical relationship between two items increases as the number of additional items showing similarities increase, i.e.. . , several similarities prove more than a single one.
    • Graebner reconstructed six successive layers of cultural development which are as follow:
    • Tasmanian Culture (the earliest one)
    • Australian Boomerang Culture
    • Totemic Hunter Culture
    • Two-class Horticulturist Culture
    • Melanesian Bow Culture
    • Polynesian Patrilienal Culture
Father Wilhem Schmidt (1868 - 1954)

Father Wilhem Schmidt (1868 - 1954)

  • He declared himself as a follower of Graebner. They both applied the rule of Criteria of Form or Quality and Criteria of Quantity to divide the culture of the world in to different strata and circles.
  • By applying the superior culture-historical method to known distribution of contemporary culture traits, they both claimed to be able to reconstruct a limited number of organized culture-circles.
  • German School of diffusion is also known as Vienna School of diffusion. Father Schmidt was elected as president of fourth International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences in 1952 held at University of Vienna.

Weaknesses of German Diffusionist School

  • They theory could not prove itself and no culture circle could be established. The short coming of the theory rested both in its premises and its methods.
  • Culture change may be divergent or convergent. The former means similar forms may become dissimilar, while latter me that the dissimilar form may become similar in time. Diffusion of course plays havoc with the idea of culture circle.
  • The approach or methodology was barren because it did not attempt to reach about the dynamics of culture change. It was basically a descriptive or ideographic method that at best gave insight about spread of culture items, and overlooked analysis of reasons behind their acceptance, rejection and modification.


Q1 The idea of culture circle belonged to which diffusionist school of thought?


A. British

B. German

C. American

D. None of these

Answer: B

Q2. Which of the following ideas does not belong to the German diffusionist school.


A. Culture circle

B. Culture District

C. Kulture Kreise

D. None of the above

Answer: D

Q3. Which of the following philosophers considered ‘mythology’ while studying cultural complex?


A. F. Ratzel

B. F. Graebner

C. F. W. Schmidt

D. Leo Frobenius

Answer: D Leo Frobenius

Q4. According to Freidrich Ratzel, which of the following was important cause for societies having similar traits.


A. Borrowing

B. Migration

C. Imitation

D. Adaptation

Answer: A

Q5. According to Graebner, which of the following is the earliest culture.

A. Tasmanian Culture

B. Melanesian Culture

C. Polynesian Culture

D. Totem- Hunter Culture

Answer: B

  • We learnt about:

#German School of Diffusionism

#Friedrich Ratzel

#Leo Frobenius

#Frietz Graebner

#Father Wilhem Schmidt

#Weaknesses of German School of Diffusionism


#Anthropological Theories

#Socio-Cultural Anthropology


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