During second half of last century, famous investigators such as Spencer, Morgan, Taylor, and
Lubbock proposed the idea of general, uniform evolution of culture in which all parts of mankind
participated.(reword). This belief was contrasted in the newer development by Ratzel whose
interest in geography led him and other researchers to claim that ethnological research is based
primarily upon the concept of migration and diffusion rather than evolution. Each of these
studies is found upon a fundamental hypothesis very different from each other.
- Presumes that course of historical changes in cultural life of mankind follows definite
laws that are applicable everywhere and that cultural development is same among all
- Based on the observation of parallelism of development in different parts of the world
where similar cultures/customs are found in two very distant places
- They argue that the occurrence of these similarities distributed so irregularly cannot be
explained by diffusion
- However hypothesis implies the our modern western European civilization is the highest
up in terms of cultural development towards which all other primitive cultural types tend
- If we understand that there may be different ultimate and coexisting types of civilization
this theory of one general line of development cannot be maintained
- The belief that the cultural similarities/differences in two different parts of the world
must be due to dissemination and migration
- Based on the observation that there are number of diverse and mutually independent
cultural traits that reappear in the same combinations in distant parts of the world
- It’s the theory that number of traits were developed in one place and carried to then
carried to other continents across the world through the means of migration
These two forms of extreme hypothesis are proposed with the hope of obtaining a consistent
picture of cultural development without any empirical evidence to support the claims.
Consider the following example:
Observation: There are certain similarities in different parts of the world between decorative
forms that are representative and others that are geometrical.
Inference from the evolutionary point of view:
- Decorative forms are arranged from most representative to geometrical
- They claim that there is a gradual transition from the representative forms to purely
geometric forms thus implying that geometrical designs originated from the
representative decorative form which gradually degenerated
- However, while this claim may not be wrong, this hypothesis has no supporting evidence.
It could very well be that the order is actually reversed where we begin with a simple
geometric design which as it develops and more traits are added, it evolves in to a
representative sequence. It could be claimed that this order hence mimics a historical
- This just goes on to show that within the evolutionary standpoint, you can look at it from
more than one perspective depending on your inference of history. They are both
potential explanations of what could be correct but neither theory can be established
without historical proof
Inference from origin through diffusion: - The belief that both the representative and geometrical design have a common origin and
have evolved differently as mankind migrated over the world
- It does not however consider the possibility that they may have developed from two
Both of these theories could be inferred from this simple observation yet none of them can be
upheld due to the lack of factual evidence.
These two theories tend to emphasize the European attitude to find one ultimate answer of how
culture developed rather than considering again the possibility that it could have many different
puzzle pieces that need to be put together. This is where the American researchers, who approach
this area of study from a completely different method, come in play.
The American scholars are primarily interested in the dynamic phenomena of cultural change,
and try to explain cultural history by the application of the results of their studies. They try to
avoid finding the solution of the ultimate question of the relative importance of parallelism of
cultural development in distant areas by first forming a hypothesis and then manipulating details
to prove it. They aim to collects the facts for when the actual conditions of cultural change are
better known and then formulate a theory based on those facts.
This approach has been frowned upon by some people claiming that this fundamental question
holds little value to the American scholars and therefore they are not trying to find an answer for
it. However, they fail to understand that although this ultimate question is just as equally
important these researchers, merely one formula cannot unravel this complicated part of history.
American approach to resolving the whole problem of cultural history:
- They believe that to understand history it is not only important how things are but also
how they came to be
- Although for most parts of the world no historical facts are available other than the
archaeological study, they can be inferred based on indirect methods. Although it is not
possible to have the exact data in a chronological sequence but general broad outlines can
be formed with a high degr