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'Pre-paradigmatic' seems like an apt term insofar as the dominant paradigm today wrt diffusion processes assumes s-shaped, scalable, exponential curves embedded in models of proportionate growth. If one drills into the literature that's been cited in this thread and the references therein, quantitative approaches to understanding diffusion processes began with Gompertz in 1825, followed by Verhulst's logistic curve about 10-15 years later. My view is that Gompertz has not been given sufficient credit for having developed the first statistical model that was truly nonlinear in the parameters -- a nontrivial contribution. In terms of 20th c contributions, Torgen Hagerstrand stands out as having done some of the most significant work in processes of cultural and geo-spatial diffusion. 

Historians, too, have weighed in on this question. A good example is Lynn White's 1966 book Medieval Technology and Social Change, which traces the development of medieval warfare to innovations in horse saddlery, specifically, the introduction of the foot stirrup around the 6th CE. However, her description of the process(es) associated with the 'spreading' and adoption of saddle stirrups is considerably lumpier than any smooth, s-shaped curve would suggest.

To clarify my intent in posing this query to the listserv, I am hoping that someone will be able to suggest books, research or speculation published earlier than Newton's Optical Lectures in 1728. However, at the end of the day I may be forced to concede that work on diffusion earlier than Newton's simply does not exist.

Thank you all,
Thomas

On Mon, Dec 4, 2017 at 2:05 PM, Thomas William Valente <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
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We classified those studies as pre-paradigmatic, quite a few studies on the diffusion of arrowheads and other archeologic evidence. The paradigm, however, coalesced with the Ryan & Gross publication which strongly influenced the Rural Sociology tradition.

 

From: George Barnett [mailto:[log in to unmask]com]
Sent: Monday, December 04, 2017 10:03 AM
To: Thomas William Valente
Cc: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [SOCNET] History and origins of diffusion processes

 

Tom & Thomas,

   It actually goes back a whole lot further to the work of Galton (cultural trait diffusion), and then  Pemberton (the diffusion of postage stamps) and Stuart Chapin. I haven't looked at the early research in 40+ years, but there was lots of research which preceded Ryan and Gross.

 

George 

 

 George A. Barnett, Ph.D.

Distinguished Professor Emeritus

Department of Communication

393 Kerr Hall

University of California – Davis

Davis, CA 95616-8695 

 

[log in to unmask]

 

 

On Mon, Dec 4, 2017 at 9:00 AM, Thomas William Valente <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

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Thomas

Although this isn’t quite what you are looking for, in the 1990-1991 time frame I interview (along with Everett Rogers) a number of early pioneers of diffusion of innovations research. We published our findings in this paper:

 

Valente, T. W., & Rogers, E. M. (1995). The origins and development of the diffusion of innovations paradigm as an example of scientific growth. Science Communication: An Interdisciplinary Social Science Journal. 16, 238-269.

 

The abstract reads:

This article traces the emergence of the basic paradigm for early diffusion research created by two rural sociologists at Iowa State University, Bryce Ryan and Neal C. Gross. The diffusion paradigm spread to an invisible college of midwestern rural sociological researchers in the 1950s and 1960s, and then to a larger, interdisciplinary field of diffusion scholars. By the late 1960s, rural sociologists lost interest in diffusion studies, not because it was ineffective scientifically, but because of lack of support for such study as a consequence of farm overproduction and because most of the interesting research questions were thought to be answered.

 

-Tom

 

Thomas W. Valente, PhD

Professor and Interim Chair

Department of Preventive Medicine

Keck School of Medicine

University of Southern California

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Email: [log in to unmask]

 

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If one looks up the word 'diffusion' in the Dictionary of the History of Science, you get the standard explanation that 'diffusion' originated in the 19th c with Graham and Maxwell and has a Latin etymology in the word, diffundere, which means "to spread out." There has to be more to the story than this, right? 

 

Earlier references might include the  "diffusion of refracted light" in Robert Greene (1727) and "diffusion of light" in Newton's Optical Lectures (1728).

 

My question for these listservs is, does anyone have any additional insight into the history and origins of the abstract idea of 'diffusion?'

 

Thank you,

Thomas Ball

 

 

 

Thomas W. Valente, PhD

Professor and Interim Chair

Department of Preventive Medicine

Keck School of Medicine

University of Southern California

Soto Street Building, Suite 330

2001 N Soto Street, MC 9239

Los Angeles CA  90089-9239

Email: [log in to unmask]

 

 

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