What is difference between cultural diffusion and cultural drift?

Both of this notions mean a penetration of elements of one culture to another one


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  • Barry Bainton · B. R. Bainton Associates
    Both concepts describe a process whereby a culture may change.

    Cultural diffusion is the spread of a cultural element invented in one culture to other cultures over time. The spread of Hip Hop Music and the IPhone are example of cultural diffusion .In cultural diffusion the Innovation comes from outside the receiving culture and competes and replaces the local element. Diffusion can be take rapidly as new innovations become available.

    Cultural drift is a process of slow change within a culture that results from disproportional loss of an old or gain of a new cultural element or practice within the culture. Fads and styles are examples of cultural drift. For example, the change from the requirement to wear a tie in order to go into a formal business meeting to the acceptability of going to the meeting dressed informally without a tie. Drift is usually a generational phenomenon.
  • Both of cases are depended on so-called "referent" group which determine the choice of element. The character of this group may determine the rout of evolution - diffusion or drift.
  • Tsanjid Ayurzana · National University of Mongolia
    Thank you, Mr. Bainton, Mr Zagorulko. What you think of cultural imperialism? Is there really such phenomenon?
  • Barry Bainton · B. R. Bainton Associates
    It is in the eye of the beholder. Conservatives see the influence of outsiders that challenges tradition as cultural imperialism. Progressives tend to see outside influences that improve current conditions as progress. You chose.
  • The term "imperialism" expresses negative attitude to this process, though it is the universal phenomenon, from Mesolithic Age till our days.
  • Barry Bainton · B. R. Bainton Associates
    @ Richard

    When I used Hip Hop as an example of diffusion I did not mean to imply that the American version was the cultural trait in particular, I meant the musical style and impulse that produces a "Hip Hop" break with the traditional style. Diffusion is an impulse that introduces a new way of looking at things that arises from outside the traditional cultural system. Native features may be retained but they are recombined in news ways adding to the cultural content. For some such influences are seen a "cultural imperialism" and lead to a conservative or fundamentalists reaction (Islamic fundamentalism for example). For others is opens new opportunities and point toward "progress."

    Whether Hip Hop is progress, of course, is in the eye of the beholder :)
  • Hans Kalff · FUTRES for forecastying
    For me ... cultural diffusion is an objective name for acceptance of outside elements in the cultural sphere entering into the local culture. Whereas drift is something subjective meaning things are running amock, not welcome.
    for my part : history has shown cultural progress, including ups and downs.
  • Barry Bainton · B. R. Bainton Associates
    Taking the archaeological perspective -- cultural diffusion is observed when a trait or trait complex appears in the historic record and then over time begins to appear and be replicated in other sites/contexts, associated with other elements of a local tradition which are not necessarily found among the originating complex. For example, a spear or arrow head technology which spreads and replaces a earlier form. Cultural drift would be a trait that slowly evolves within the cultural complex over time, such a pottery motif or other art form.

    When speaking of the dynamic consequences of cultural change, we should be looking objectively at the nature of the change and evaluating whether it is a result of an internal developmental process (drift) or a response to an external environmental change or stimulus (diffusion).

    As anthropologists, we do not need, nor does it help, to make value judgements about the change itself. What is important, from the anthropological perspective, is to understand the dynamics of cultural change. By doing so we can then understand how humanity as survived and prospered as a species. This, for me, is the central question for anthropology -- especially at this stage of human development.
  • Archaeological examples are not so representative in compare with anthropological ones, because of poor preservation of artifacts. Most archaeological records concerned with technology and not so much with other sphere of culture. So one can not compare preserved stine tools and non-preserved wooden or bone tools.
  • Barry Bainton · B. R. Bainton Associates
    As an American trained as a 4 field anthropologist, archaeology is part of anthropology. The archaeological record is critical to the understanding of the evolution of mankind and human culture. The record from archaeological sites are the "fossils" of human/cultural activity. This does not take away from their importance to the understanding of cultural dynamics. Most of human history,even today, is "undocumented" (unwritten). We rely on unwritten physical evidence to understand what happened. What we have to rely on is the physical evidence of human activity -- that is, an archaeological perspective.

    Examples of how ARCHAEOLOGY methods have validity are: Criminal forensics, which relies on the methods of archaeology to reconstruct a crime scene. The results, if performed properly, are accepted as a valid and reliable method for producing evidence sufficient to lead to a criminal conviction or acquittal.

    Another example are accident and disaster reconstructions which look at the patterns and remains of an event to determine probable causes, assign responsibility and lead to corrective actions.

    The concept of diffusion and drift came from archaeology and its application in museum science as a way to arrange artifacts and material culture samples obtained by field archaeologists, collectors and ethnographers. These concepts help in explaining the what, where and why the items were put on display in this manner in the museums. The general acceptance of this approach is, itself, an example of the diffusion of a cultural trait in the world of museum administration.

    Artifacts of all types are cultural products and therefore fossils of human activity. This was recognized early in the history of anthropological theory and development. The German Kulturkreis theory relied on the distribution of material culture through space and time to explain the evolution of culture.

    In America, Clark Wissler and others developed their own version of this theory -- the Culture Area approach -- to distinguish between major cultural traditions. Ruth Benedict implicitly incorporated this idea in her Patterns of Culture which recognized the psychological difference between Plains Indian and Pueblo cultural patterns. These patterns served as barriers to the diffusion of certain traits and explained why the cultural differences between the traditions persisted over time.

    The basic question which began this thread was the distinction between cultural diffusion and cultural drift. The difference is, in my experience, the locus or the origin of change within a culture. Does the change come from within the society or from outside the society that bears the culture? If from within, it is drift. If from with out the society, it is diffusion. That simple.
  • Cultural deposites must contain all information - but it is rather difficult to get it. It is reality. If one have not all information on the first stage - classification and typology, all interpretation of cultural evolutin will be unperfect. Optimization of this process result in primitive reconstuction.
    What about diffusion or drift - may be it depends on cultural situation in concrete society - crisis situation gomogenetical(in cultural and social sense) demands to introduce new elements outside, drift concerned with processes between different groups of society.May be diffusion replace development?

    Happy New Year!
  • Barry Bainton · B. R. Bainton Associates
    The discussion here is a distinction without an difference.

    "Cultural deposits" contain what cultural deposits contain. That is both the reality and the fact. There are no absolutes. Our perceptions of the uncertainty of the universe are the reality. For examples, an ethnography contains only what the ethnographer recorded and reported for the moment in time and place that he/she observed the behavior and the context in which it was observed.

    If "relativity" is the answer one is looking for, so be it. The original question was "what is the difference?" and not "why do we have these distinctions?"
  • ОК Difference (diffusion or drift) is indicated in archaeological records in many ways. Anyway both of processes have different rapid of evolution, drift slowly grow inside community, diffusion fastly replace old elements. Archaeologist can trace step-by-step process of drift, but he must be lucky with site.

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