Diffusionism refers to the diffusion or transmission of cultural characteristics or traits from the common society to all other societies. They criticized the Psychic unity of mankind of evolutionists. They believed that most inventions happened just once and men being capable of imitation, these inventions were then diffused to other places. According to them all cultures originated at one point and then spread throughout the world. They opposed the notion of progress from simple to complex forms held by the evolutionists. They also held that primitive or modern is also a relative matter and hence comparative method is not applicable. They looked specifically for variations that gradually occurred while diffusion took place.
The main proponents of British school of Diffusionism were G.Elliot Smith,William J Perry and W.H.R Rivers. They held the view that all cultures originated only in one part of the world. Egypt was the culture centre of the world and the cradle of civilization. Hence human culture originated in Egypt and then spread throughout the world. They pointed to the Pyramid like large stone structures and sun worship in several parts of the world.
The German School of Diffusionism has chief proponents like Friedrich Ratzel,Leo Frobenius,Fritz Graebner and William Schmidt. There approach was through the analysis of culture complexes identified gepgraphically and studied as they spread and developed historically.It has both time and space dimensions.The first dimension of space was explained in terms of culture circles and the second dimension of time was explained in terms of culture strata.
The Diffusionist thought in America centred on Culture areas which referred to relatively small geographical regions containing the contiguous distribution of similar cultural elements. The term culture area was first used by O.T Mason who identified 18 American Culture Areas.His ideas were elaborated by scholars like Clark Wissler and Alfred Kroeber and Robert Lowie.