The earlier theories about cultural were concerned with two main problems-

  • How do cultures come to be?
  • How do they come to have familiar culture traits and complexes?
There are three main theories related to the change, development and functions of culture.

Evolutionists believe that material and non-material cultures are the result of social evolutions. Morgan, Tylor, Levy-Bruhl, Comte, Marx, Spencer, Dukhiem, G. Childe are the main propounders of this view.

Morgan’s View: According to Morgan, Human societies evolved from lower into higher types.

He postulated three stages- (i) Savage (ii) Barbarism and (iii) Civilization. To begin with man lived in savage society, which had an older period, a middle period synchronizing with fishing and the use of fire and a later period, when the bow and arrow were used. With the invention of pottery, man entered the older period of barbarism. Domestication of animals and cultivation of plants by irrigation ushered in the middle period of barbarism. From the time the process of smelting iron are was invented and iron tools made use of, till the next change, man lived in later period of barbarism. The third and last phase according to him is civilization. In this stage invention of a phonetic alphabet and writing.

Civilization, according to Morgan, was as well the contemporary condition of western European society.

Taylor’s View: Taylor has talked about the growth of religions. He considered animistic polytheism to have been the earliest and simplest from of religion. Then must have come an intermediary stage of higher polytheistic ideology which ultimately gave way to monotheism.

Haddon’s View: Haddon talked about the evolution of art form. According to theory of evolution there are three stages:
  • Realistic stage
  • Geometric stage
  • Symbolic stage
Levy Bruhl’s View: Bruhl talked about the evolution of logic. He posited the evolution of modern logic from primitive logic. He asserted that, in so far as the primitives are not conscious of the implication of contradiction and physical separateness—which he asserted they are not-their’s is a mentally undeveloped as compared to ours. He, therefore chose to call it a pre-logical mentality.

Functionalist argue that in order to understand culture, it is necessary to understand how the various agglomerates and elements of culture function. Malinowski is considered to be the father of this theory. Malinowski and R. Brown hold that the various elements of culture contribute towards the whole society while fulfilling man’s need.

Malinowski’s View: Malinowski argued that people everywhere share certain biological and psychological needs and that the ultimate function of all cultural institutions is to fulfil those needs. Everyone, for example, needs to feel secure in relation to physical universe. Therefore, when science and tectnology are inadequate to explain certain natural phenomena such as eclipses or earthquakes-people develop religion and magic to account for those phenomena and to a restore a feeling of security. The nature of the institution, according to Malinowski is determined by its function.

Malinowski outline three fundamental level of needs which he claimed had to be resolved by all cultures.
  1. Biological Needs: A culture must provide for biological needs, such as the need for food and production.
  2. Instrumental Needs: A culture must provide for instrumental needs, such as the need for law and education.
  3. Integrative Needs: A culture must provide for integrative needs, such as religion and art.
In this way malinowski’s functional approach played an important role in emphasizing the interrelationships within culture and the ways cultures functions to fill the needs of those who lived by their rules.

R. Brown’s View: Brown was the originator of the structural functionalist school of thought. He maintained that each custom and belief of a society has a specific function that serves to perpetuate the structure of that society its orderd arrangement of parts-so that the society’s continued existence is possible. The work of the anthropologist then was to study the ways in which customs and beliefs function to solve the problem of maintaining the system. From such studies should emerge universal laws of human behaviour.

Brown is more concerned with the survival of society than that of the individual only. He therefore, points out that integration within a culture being the only way to secure the survival of society. Such integration is both an ideal as also the reality. If such integration breaks down, there will be no society.

This concept is given by Ruth Bendict. Bendict said that the integration is culture is brought about by its content being arranged into a permanent or semi-permanent design or style. Such a design, she called pattern. Within a culture there would be the style of each large segment, and these segmental styles would come together into super-style which would be the design of the culture as a whole. This is called configuration. This harmony, she further indicates that all style are harmonious with each other and, blend into a harmonious configuration. This harmony, she says, arises out of a main tendency or bends which every culture exhibits in all its aspects. This main tendency or trend, she calls the genius of a culture. It is this genius or spirit of a people which brings about integration in their culture, the integration of form. She believes that in human society this genius may be one of the two possible types:
  1. Apollonian: The word Apollonian is derived from Apollo the benign sun god of the ancient Greeks. The Apollonian genius represents the principle of calm composure and the same would characterize all aspects of the culture concerned and bring about its integration.
  2. Dionysian: The word Dionysian is derived from Dionysus, the turbulent Greek god of drink and carnivals. The Dionysian genius represents the principle of storm and would bring about integration and harmonious blending of a culture by pervading all its aspects. Benedict gave three examples from the Dionysian sorcerers of Dobu and the Kwakiutl of the north-western coast of America and the Apollonian Peublos of New Mexico.

Morris Opler has put forward the concept of cultural themes to explain integration.

A major pattern of values within a culture that provides important underlying assumptions upon which systems of belief and standards of behaviour are based. Morris. E. Opler, who introduced the term, defined it as “a postulate or position, declared or implied, and usually controlling behaviour or stimulating activity, which is tacitly approved or openly promoted in a society.


Transmission of culture, leading to culture growth and culture parallels, was called diffusion”

The division of school of diffusion and their followers can be understood better by presenting in chart as below:


School of diffusion


A.     British School of Diffusion

1.      G. E Smith

2.      W. J Pery

3.      W. H. R Rivers


B.     German School of Diffusion

1.      F. Ratzel

2.      F. Graebner

3.      F. W. Schmidt

C.     American School of Diffusion

1.      Franz Boas

2.      Clark Wissler

3.      A. L. Kroeber

A. British School of Diffusion: It is also known as pan-Eygptian school. Eliot Smith was the founder of this school and W. J Perry was his Follower. They are designated as extreme diffusionists and Eygptogist, because for them, Egypt was the only centre of culture, from where culture traits diffused to rest part of the world.
1. 1.      G.E. Smith: Smith’s first famous book entitled The Origin of Civilization was published in 1928. In this book he emphasized upon Eygpt as the origin of civilization. It was the place where agriculture through irrigation channel came into existence. Thus, ancient Egypt began to plant more and more seeds by controlling rivers inundations, and inventing a full-fledged system of hydraulic agriculture. Stimulated by their successes, they invented such necessary items as pottery, weaving, the wheel plough and writing. They began to build cities, and established the institutions of law, government, religion, worshipping sun-god as their major deity. Smith attempted his best to indicate origin of civilization for the first time, in Egypt.
Smith was well aware that man was more older than civilization. He explained diffusion of cultural traits from Egypt to rest spheres of world also in his book entitled Diffusion of culture.
2. W.J Perry: Perry was a supporter of smith scheme of diffusion of culture’s. He blindly supported smith’s theory that Egypt was the only cultural cradle in the world. He was of the opinion that similarities were caused due to diffusion of culture traits, and Egypt was the ancient centre of civilization.
3. W.H.R Rivers: W.H.R Rivers studied the polyandrous Toda of Nilgiri Hill. Rivers brought into light the interrelatedness of Toda culture with the Buffalo complex. He opined the similarities in cultures could be explained in better way by taking into consideration the imitation and migration. In this way he strongly supported the theory of uninventiveness put forward by his contemporaries Smith and Perry. He believed in migration as well diffusion of culture traits.
B. German School of Diffusion: German School of Diffusion is also known as Kultur Kreise School. Believing in theory of culture diffusion, German diffusionists also touched the evolutionary schemes. According to them; development of culture takes place not only as a particular place like Egypt, but it occurs at several different places at several times. This means that different cultural traits and cultural complexes originated independently or freely, at several parts of earth, from where they are initiated or migrated to other places. They were of the view that discoveries of all things were not possible at the same time and at the same place, rather they were discovered at several places by several generations i.e. not a particular place by same generation. They held opinion that cultural traits or complexes developed at different places and reached into places of other parts by migration. Thus they accepted the theory of diffusion as well as evolution both for the cultural development and growth.
1. 1.      F. Ratzel: According to Ratzel, the most important consideration was to discover from where cultural traits came and where they went. He was of opinion that there were no spatial limits to the pathways they might take. Single cultural items usually diffused, but whole cultural complexes were transplanted by migration. Yet, in every case, adaptation to environment would cause variations in cultural traits to take on somewhat different outword shapes. Ratzel warned that not every similarities could be taken as a proof of historical connection because objects of material culture, in order to have any utility at all, must possess certain features.
Ratzel felt that culture traits may become simplified or elaborated in their course of diffusion or migration, depending upon the local conditions and relative sophistication of local technology.
2. F. Graebner: Graebner, the main leader of Kultur Kreise School, applied the culture circle and culture strata idea on a world basis. According to him early man invented the basic of culture, such as language and tool making but soon formed a number of small bands that become isolated. Each of those developed their own distinctive cultures and they were the Urkulturen or ‘premeval Culture’, whose members, in course of time spread out in different directions, eventually populating all continents. It was the task and aim of culture historians to reconstruct the various Kreise or circle.

Graebner Reconstructed Six Successive Layers Of Culture Development:
  • Tasmanian culture
  • Totemic Hunter culture
  • Melanesion bow culture
  • Australian Boomerang culture
  • Two-class horticulturist culture
  • Polynesian patrilineal culture
Graebner Classified Diffusion in two Categories:
  1. Primary diffusion
  2. Secondary diffusion
Tasmanian culture being oldest one was example of primary diffusion. Elements of complex culture developed all over Australia deu to secondary diffusion.

3. F.W. Schmidt: Schmidt distinguished four major grades of culture circle which are as follows.
  • Primitive culture circle
  • Secondary culture circle
  • Primary culture circle
  • Tertiary culture circle
The most striking feature of this scheme is it evolutionism. The succession of grades is nothing less than familiar sequence of grades leading from hunting and gathering types of socio cultural systems through horticultural and pastoral types and to complex stratified civilizations.

C. American School of Diffusion: Franz Boas was the founder of this school Clark Wisslter and A. L Kroebar were his followers. German diffusionists of culture circle school talked about complex form of diffusion of culture, but they failed to explain as to why diffusion took place. American diffusionists attempted to solve this question and to remove this shortcoming of culture historic school.

In order to show the diffusion of cultural traits and complexes American diffusionists devised a methodology which is known as Culture Area Approach. They did not analysis cultural diffusion in the world at the same time. Instead, they divided world into different cultural areas on the basis of geographical regions. They were of opinion that geographical aspects of culture can not be ignored in the study of culture area. They held the view that dimensions of each culture can be studied on the basis of culture area study.

The concept of culture area was emphasized by Wissler and supported by A. L. Kroeber Herskowitze and Sapir. That’s why American school of diffusion is also known as ‘Culture Area School.'

1. Franz Boas: Boas attempted to study why the process of diffusion took place at all. The facts that many fundamental features of culture are universal, or at least occurred in many isolated places, interpreted by the assumption that the same feature must always have developed from the same causes, leads to the conclusion that there is one grand system according to which mankind has developed everywhere. All the occurring variations are on more than minor details in this grand uniform evolution. It is clear that this theory has for its logical basis the assumption that the samw phenomena are always due to similar cases.
2. Clark Wissler: Clark Wissler was a student of F. Boas, the defined the restricted area of culture as culture area. He demonstrated that in a cultural area-comprising a set of culture complexes- a central point of dispersal could be identified. People living on the borders of two culture areas would share the features of both. Such areas were called marginal area. According to WISSLER “The natives of new world could be grouped according to culture traits, this would give us food areas, textile areas, ceramic areas etc. If, however, we take all traits into simultaneous consideration and shift our point of view to social or tribal units, we are able to form a fairly definite group. This will give us cultural areas, or a classification of social groups according to their cultural traits."

Clark Wissler’s map listed ten culture area for North America, four for South America and a separate one for Caribbean.

Wissler found it necessary to posit a culture-centre for each of his culture area. This centre was the place of early settlement from which the various traits had diffused. The origin of culture centre seems due to ethnic factors more than to geographical ones. The location of these centers is largely a matter of historic accident, but once located and adjustment made, the stability of the environment doubtless tend to hold each particular type of culture to its initial locality, even in the face of many change in blood and language.

Wissler observed two types of cultural diffusion.
  1. The natural diffusion
  2. The organized diffusion
In natural diffusion, cultural traits of one group diffused in different parts of the same group or in different cultural groups by trail or error method and indigenous process, which is time taking. It is transmitted through natural agencies.

On the other hand organized diffusion is very quick and transmitted through organized agencies like missionaries invaders, contacts with inhabitants of alien culture etc.

A. L. Kroeber: Kroebar emphasized upon the trait list approach in conviction that facts must proceed theory. He observed that inspite of their differences; culture areas often resembled each other in many ways. He proposed, therefore, that statistical correlations should be made in order to find the coincidence of typical traits, so that culture areas would become sharply delineated.
Kroebar added the concepts of ‘cultural intensity’ and ‘cultural climax’ to that of area. He felt that culture could not be wholly understood even by most complete summation of observable elements, because every culture contained other elements that could not be caught by trait lists. Kroebar called these the “sensitive indicators” of culture. According to Kroebar, sensitive indicators of culture included art, music, religion, ethos, philosophy, and similar aspects of intellectual life; that do not easily lend themselves to statistical treatment.

‘Cultural climax’ is to be thought of as the dynamic equivalent of the descriptive term “culture- centre’. It is the part of the area where the tribes have ‘a larger contact of culture’. In other words, more numerous elements and more sharply expressed and interrelated patterns.


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