Difference Between Diffusion and Acculturation

Diffusion vs Acculturation

Diffusion and acculturation are two terms used in Anthropology that have some difference between them. These two terms, diffusion and acculturation, are mostly used in relation to social change. As we all know, a society and its culture cannot remain the same. As time goes by, cultural changes can be observed. However, while some cultures embrace these changes, others resist any changes and use various societal mechanisms to control change. In today’s world, along with the high tech developments and globalization, it is very difficult for cultures to remain isolated and uninfluenced by other cultures. When a culture comes in contact with another culture both diffusion and acculturation can take place. First, let us define the two words. Diffusion is when cultural traits of a culture spread to another culture. However, acculturation is quite different to diffusion. It is when a culture completely transforms and becomes accustomed to the new cultural traits. Through this article let us examine the difference between the two concepts.

What is Diffusion?

Diffusion takes place when the aspects of one culture spread to another culture. Food, clothing, practices are some examples for cultural aspects that can transform to another culture. Cultural diffusion can damage the traditional culture of a society because it becomes displaced due to the spread of the new cultural elements. Diffusion can take place in three ways.

  • Direct diffusion
  • Indirect diffusion
  • Forced diffusion

Direct diffusion is when two cultures are close to one another. This leads to a merge or else a fusion of cultural elements due to the activity of the people. For instance, intermarriage can be considered a fine example of cultural diffusion. Indirect diffusion is when diffusion takes place through another medium such as the internet or media. Finally, forced diffusion is when one culture becomes conquered by another, where the conquerors impose their culture on the native people. During the colonial era, this occurred in many Asian and African countries, due to the colonial activities of the West.

Difference Between Diffusion and Acculturation

The effect of Western culture on Korean culture

What is Acculturation?

The process of transformation, when a culture adopts various aspects of another culture on a large scale and becomes transformed, is referred to as acculturation. Changes can occur in beliefs, customs, artifacts, language, practices, etc. Let us comprehend this through an example. When a minority group in a society learns the dominant culture and its various aspects, such as clothing, manner of speaking, values, the group goes through a process of acculturation.

In this context, they have to abandon their beliefs, practices, language, clothing, etc. and embrace something new. Acculturation and diffusion have to be viewed as two processes that are inter-related even though they are different from one another.

 Diffusion vs Acculturation

Native Americans in European attire

What is the difference between Diffusion and Acculturation?

• Definitions of Diffusion and Acculturation:

• Diffusion is when cultural traits of a culture spread to another culture.

• Acculturation is when a culture completely transforms and becomes accustomed to the new cultural traits.

• Importance:

• Acculturation and diffusion are two types of social change that are inter-related.

• Anthropology:

• Both terms are studied as theories in the field of Anthropology.

• Connection:

• Diffusion assists acculturation.

• Focus:

• Diffusion specifically related to cultural elements.

• Acculturation embraces an entire culture.


Images Courtesy:

  1. After School in January 15, 2014 at the AfterSchool’s Beauty Bible production presentation by J13 (CC BY-SA 3.0)
  2. Native Americans in European attire via Wikicommons (Public Domain)