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How new ideas are diffused in society? elaborate the process of diffusion of innovation.
Diffusion is the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system. Diffusion is a special type of communication concerned with the spread of messages that are perceived as new ideas.
An innovation, simply put, is “an idea perceived as new by the individual.”
An innovation is an idea, practice, or object that is perceived as new by an individual or other unit of adoption. The characteristics of an innovation, as perceived by the members of a social system, determine its rate of adoption.
The four main elements in the diffusion of new ideas are:
(1) The innovation
(2) Communication channels
(4) The social system (context)
Why do certain innovations spread more quickly than others? The innovation, to spread and be adopted should show:
The characteristics which determine an innovation’s rate of adoption are: (1) Relative advantage
(5) Observability to those people within the social system.
Communication is the process by which participants create and share information with one another in order to reach a mutual understanding. A communication channel is the means by which messages get from one individual to another. Mass media channels are more effective in creating knowledge of innovations, whereas interpersonal channels are more effective in forming and changing attitudes toward a new idea, and thus in influencing the decision to adopt or reject a new idea. Most individuals evaluate an innovation, not on the basis of scientific research by experts, but through the subjective evaluations of near-peers who have adopted the innovation.
The time dimension is involved in diffusion in three ways.
3.1 – First, time is involved in the innovation-decision process. The innovation-decision process is the mental process through which an individual (or other decision-making unit) passes from first knowledge of an innovation to forming an attitude towardthe innovation, to a decision to adopt or reject, to implementation of the new idea, and toconfirmation of this decision. An individual seeks information at various stages in the innovation-decision process in order to decrease uncertainty about an innovation’s expected consequences.
(1) Knowledge – person becomes aware of an innovation and has some idea of how it functions
(2) Persuasion – person forms a favorable or unfavorable attitude toward the innovation
(3) Decision – person engages in activities that lead to a choice to adopt or reject the innovation
(4) Implementation – person puts an innovation into use
(5) Confirmation – person evaluates the results of an innovation-decision already made
3.2 – The second way in which time is involved in diffusion is in the innovativeness of an individual or other unit of adoption. Innovativeness is the degree to which anindividual or other unit of adoption is relatively earlier in adopting new ideas than othermembers of a social system. There are five adopter categories, or classifications of the members of a social system on the basis on their innovativeness:
(1) Innovators – 2.5%
(2) Early adopters – 13.5% (3) Early majority – 34%
(4) Late majority – 34%
(5) Laggards – 16%
3.3 – The third way in which time is involved in diffusion is in rate of adoption. The rateof adoption is the relative speed with which an innovation is adopted by members of asocial system. The rate of adoption is usually measured as the number of members of the system that adopt the innovation in a given time period. As shown previously, an innovation’s rate of adoption is influenced by the five perceived attributes of an innovation. — (Time/Infected Population)
The social system
The fourth main element in the diffusion of new ideas is the social system. A socialsystem is defined as a set of interrelated units that are engaged in joint problem-solvingto accomplish a common goal. The members or units of a social system may be individuals, informal groups, organizations, and/or subsystems. The social system constitutes a boundary within which an innovation diffuses. How the system’s social structure affects diffusion has been studied. A second area of research involved how norms affect diffusion. Norms are the established behavior patterns for the members of a social system. A third area of research has had to do with opinion leadership, the degree to which an individual is able to influence informally other individuals’ attitudes or overt behavior in a desired way with relative frequency. A change agent is an individual who attempts to influence clients’ innovation-decisions in a direction that is deemed desirable by a change agency.
A final crucial concept in understanding the nature of the diffusion process is the critical mass, which occurs at the point at which enough individuals have adopted an innovation that the innovation’s further rate of adoption becomes self-sustaining (the shaded area in Figure 2 depicts the critical mass). The concept of the critical mass implies that outreach activities should be concentrated on getting the use of the innovation to the point of critical mass. These efforts should be focused on the early adopters, the 13.5 percent of the individuals in the system to adopt an innovation after the innovators have introduced the new idea into the system. Early adopters are often opinion leaders, and serve as role-models for many other members of the social system. Early adopters are instrumental in getting an innovation to the point of critical mass, and hence, in the successful diffusion of an innovation.
> Relative advantage is the degree to which an innovation is perceived as better than the idea it supersedes. The degree of relative advantage may be measured in economic terms, but social prestige, convenience, and satisfaction are also important factors. It does not matter so much if an innovation has a great deal of objective advantage. What does matter is whether an individual perceives the innovation as advantageous. The greater the perceived relative advantage of an innovation, the more rapid its rate of adoption will be.
> Compatibility is the degree to which an innovation is perceived as being consistent
with the existing values, past experiences, and needs of potential adopters. An idea that is incompatible with the values and norms of a social system will not be adopted as rapidly as an innovation that is compatible. The adoption of an incompatible innovation often requires the prior adoption of a new value system, which is a relatively slow process.
> Complexity is the degree to which an innovation is perceived as difficult to understand and use. Some innovations are readily understood by most members of a social system; others are more complicated and will be adopted more slowly. New ideas that are
simpler to understand are adopted more rapidly than innovations that require the adopter to develop new skills and understandings.
> Trialability is the degree to which an innovation may be experimented with on a limited basis. New ideas that can be tried on the installment plan will generally be adopted more quickly than innovations that are not divisible. An innovation that is trialable represents less uncertainty to the individual who is considering it for adoption, who can learn by doing.
> Observability is the degree to which the results of an innovation are visible to others. The easier it is for individuals to see the results of an innovation, the more likely they are to adopt it. Such visibility stimulates peer discussion of a new idea, as friends and neighbors of an adopter often request innovation-evaluation information about it.
> Innovators are the first 2.5 percent of the individuals in a system to adopt an innovation. Venturesomeness is almost an obsession with innovators. This interest in new ideas leads them out of a local circle of peer networks and into more cosmopolite social relationships. Communication patterns and friendships among a clique of innovators are common, even though the geographical distance between the innovators may be considerable. Being an innovator has several prerequisites. Control of substantial financial resources is helpful to absorb the possible loss from an unprofitable innovation. The ability to understand and apply complex technical knowledge is also needed. The innovator must be able to cope with a high degree of uncertainty about an innovation at the time of adoption. While an innovator may not be respected by the other members of a social system, the innovator plays an important role in the diffusion process: That of launching the new idea in the system by importing the innovation from outside of the system’s boundaries. Thus, the innovator plays a gatekeeping role in the flow of new ideas into a system.
> Early adopters are the next 13.5 percent of the individuals in a system to adopt an
innovation. Early adopters are a more integrated part of the local system than are innovators. Whereas innovators are cosmopolites, early adopters are localites. This adopter category, more than any other, has the greatest degree of opinion leadership in most systems. Potential adopters look to early adopters for advice and information about the innovation. This adopter category is generally sought by change agents as a local missionary for speeding the diffusion process. Because early adopters are not too far ahead of the average individual in innovativeness, they serve as a role-model for many other members of a social system. The early adopter is respected by his or her peers, and is the embodiment of successful, discrete use of new ideas. The early adopter knows that to continue to earn this esteem of colleagues and to maintain a central position in the communication networks of the system, he or she must make judicious innovation-decisions. The early adopter decreases uncertainty about a new idea by adopting it, and then conveying a subjective evaluation of the innovation to near-peers through interpersonal networks.
> Early majority is the next 34 percent of the individuals in a system to adopt an innovation. The early majority adopt new ideas just before the average member of a system. The early majority interact frequently with their peers, but seldom hold positions of opinion leadership in a system. The early majority’s unique position between the very early and the relatively late to adopt makes them an important link in the diffusion process. They provide interconnectedness in the system’s interpersonal networks. The early majority are one of the two most numerous adopter categories, making up one- third of the members of a system. The early majority may deliberate for some time before completely adopting a new idea. “Be not the first by which the new is tried, nor the last to lay the old aside,” fits the thinking of the early majority. They follow with deliberate willingness in adopting innovations, but seldom lead.
> Late majority is the next 34 percent of the individuals in a system to adopt an innovation. The late majority adopt new ideas just after the average member of a system. Like the early majority, the late majority make up one-third of the members of a system. Adoption may be the result of increasing network pressures from peers. Innovations are approached with a skeptical and cautious air, and the late majority do not adopt until most others in their system have done so. The weight of system norms must definitely favor an innovation before the late majority are convinced. The pressure of peers is necessary to motivate adoption. Their relatively scarce resources mean that most of the uncertainty about a new idea must be removed before the late majority feel that it is safe to adopt.
> Laggards are the last 16 percent of the individuals in a system to adopt an innovation. They possess almost no opinion leadership. Laggards are the most localite in their outlook of all adopter categories; many are near isolates in the social networks of their system. The point of reference for the laggard is the past. Decisions are often made in terms of what has been done previously. Laggards tend to be suspicious of innovations and change agents. Resistance to innovations on the part of laggards may be entirely rational from the laggard’s viewpoint, as their resources are limited and they must be certain that a new idea will not fail before they can adopt.
This theory states that, as the cultural base grows, its possible uses tend to grow in a geometric ratio. To illustrate: if we have only two chemicals in a laboratory, only one combination (A-B) is possible (A-B-C, A-B, A-C, and B-C,), with four chemicals, ten combinations; with five chemicals, twenty-five/ and so on. As the size of the culture base grows by addition, the possible combinations of these elements grow by multiplication. This helps to explain today’s high rate of discoveries and invention. A vast accumulation of scientific technical knowledge is shard by all the civilized societies, and from this base new inventions and discoveries flow in a rising tide.
To understand the term “value” in it true sociological sense, it is, absolutely necessary to discuss the elements of culture.
Norms are shared rules or guidelines that prescribe the behaviour that is appropriate in a given situation. Norms define how people “ought” to behave under particular circumstances in a particular society. We conform to the norms so readily that we are hardly conscious of their existence. In fact, we notice departures from norms tried to shake hands when you were introduced, but you might be a little startled if he or she kissed you on both cheeks. Yet this form of greeting is appropriate in other societies. When We visit another society whose norms are different, we quickly become aware that we do things this fashion, and they do them that fashion.
Folkways And Mores
Norms ensure that social life proceeds smoothly, for they give us guidelines for our own behaviour and reliable expectations for the behaviour of others. This social function of norms is so important that there is always strong social pressure on people to conform. But although most of us conform to most norms most of the time, all of us tend to violate some norms occasionally. In the case .of certain norms, the folkways,,a fair amount of non-conformity may be tolerated, but in the case, of certain other norms, the mores, very little range is permitted.
By the culture base, we-mean the accumulation of knowledge and technique available to the inventor in a society. As the culture base grows, an increasing number of inventions and discoveries become possible. The invention of the geared wheel provided a component which has been used in countless inventions. The discovery of electromagnetic and the invention of the vacuum tube, the transistor, and the microchip provided necessary components for hundreds of more recent inventions. Unless the Cultural base provides enough earlier inventions and discoveries, fresh inventions cannot be completed. The recent “knowledge explosion” is often cited as the source of modern innovation. This is another way of saying that the cultural base is rapidly growing and is accessible to a growing number of our people. When all the supporting knowledge has been developed, the appearance of an invention or discovery becomes almost a certainty; In fact, it is quite common for an invention or discovery to be made independently .by several persons at about the same time. When the cultural base provides all the supporting items of knowledge, it is very probable that one or more imaginative persons will put these items together for a new invention or discovery.
Only culture accounts for the success of human beings. We create culture, but ‘ culture in turn creates us. We are no longer the helpless victims of the natural environment. We make our own social environment, inventing and sharing the rules and patterns of behaviour that shape our lives. We use our knowledge to modify the natural environment as well. Without a culture transmitted from the past, each new generation would have to solve the most elementary problems Of human existence over again. It would be obliged to devise a family system, to invent a language, to discover fire, to create the wheel, and so on. Cultural inventions enable us to be insulated from the cold of the Arctic, to travel in outer space, and to live in submarinesall with|ut any recourse to physical evolution. Unlike other animals, we can self-consciously adapt to our environments and can adapt the environment to meet our needs.. We have the biological capapity to speak, but which language we use and how we use it depends on our cultural environment. We have the biological capacity to laugh, to cry, to blush, to become angry, but the circumstances under which we might do any of these things are learnt in society.
Culture enables us to invent and learn ways of adapting to our environments and changing situations. All other animals must rely on the slow and accidental process of biological evolution to adapt them to the environment, but human beings can adapt quickly to radically different environments. Human nature is what we make of it, and what we make of it depends on the. culture in which we happen to live. One of the aspects, of the sociological” perspective is that it exposes myths about our social behaviour, and shows that what seems natural , or instinctive, is a cultural product of human society. In short, culture is the secret of our success.
In a general sense, the word culture is often used to refer to refined tastes in art, literature, or music etc. The sociological use of the term is much wider, and includes the entire way of life of a society. In this sense everyone who participates in society is “cultured.” To the sociologists, culture consists of all the shared products of human society”. These products are of two basic kinds , viz material and non-material .Material culture consists of all the artifacts or physical objects human beings create—such as wheel, clothing, schools, factories, cities, books, computer etc. Non-material culture consists of more abstract creations — like language, ideas, beliefs, rules, customs, myths, skills, family patterns, political systems. Sociology, 1977, 1An Robertson, P. 51.
According to Sir Edward Tylor (1871), “Culture .. is that complex whole-which includes knowledge, beliefs, art, morals, law, customs and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.” Horton and Hunt say, “Culture is everything which is socially learned and shared by the members of a society.” The individual receives culture apart of a social heritage, reshapes it and introduces changes which become part of the heritage of succeeding generations. Sociology, 1984, (6th Ed.), P. B. Horton and C.L. Hunt, P. 52
Two anthropologists defined culture as: “By ‘culture’ we mean those historically created selective processes which channel men \ reactions both to internal and to external stimuli.” Robert Bierstedt says ” Culture is the complex whole that consists of all the,ways we think and do and everything we have as members of society.” The Social Order 1970 (3rd Ed.) Robert Bierstedt, P. 123.
“Culture” must be.distinguished from ‘society.’ Culture consists of the shared products of society while society as a relatively independent, self-perpetuating human group, occupies a territory, shares a culture, and has its associations Within this group. Sociology, 1984, (6th Ed.), P. B. Horton and C.L. Hunt, P. 52.
Sociology is subdivided into many specialized fields, of which a partial list includes:
Crime and Delinquency
Law and Society
Race and Ethnic Relations
Rural and Urban Sociology
tratification and Mobility
Social: Change, Control, Organization, arid Psychology Sociology of: Education, Knowledge and Science, Occupations, Professions, Religion, and Small Groups
These topics are not the exclusive property of sociology and other disciplines share its interest in many topics. For example, its interest in communication and public opinion is shared by psychology and political, science,-Criminology is shared with psychology, political science, law, and so on. Sociology is especially close to psychology and anthropology, and overlaps them so constantly that any firm boundaries would be arbitrary and unrealistic. (Hurton and Chester, 1984: 25-27)
Major Theoretical Perspectives
A crucial element in sociology is theory. A theory is a statement that organizes a set of concepts in a meaningful way by explaining the relationship between them. A working set of assumptions is called a “perspective,” an “approach,” or sometimes a “paradigm. ” If the theory is valid, it will correctly predict that identical relationships will occur in the future if the conditions are identical. In order to study anything* one must begin by making some assumptions about the nature of what is studied. For example, the ancient Greeks bejieved that the universe was run according to, the Whims of the gods. By contrast, all scientists assume that the universe is orderly, and operates in certain regular ways which we may be able to discover. Thus, Newton developed the laws of gravity after observing that apples always fall down, never up. Following are some of the theoretical perspectives used in sociology.
The Evolutionary Perspective
It is the earliest theoretical perspective in sociology. It is based on the work of August Comte (1798-1857) and Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), and offers a satisfying explanation of how human societies originate and grow.
Sociologists using the evolutionary perspective look for. patterns of change and development appearing in different societies, to see whether any general sequences can be found. They might wonder, for example, whether industrialization will have the same effects upon the family in developing countries that it seems to have had in Western nations.
The Interactionism Perspective
Symbolic integrationists such as G.H. Mead (1863-1931) and C.H. Cooley (1846- 1929) concentrate upon the interaction between individuals and groups. They note that people interact mainly through symbols,- which include signs, gestures, and most importantly, through written and spoken words. A word has no inherent meaning. It is simply a noise, but it becomes a Word when people reach agreement that this noise carries a special meaning; Thus, “yes, “.”no,” “go,” “come,” and thousands of other sounds became symbols as a meaning is attached to each.
Modern interactionists such as Erving G off man (1959) and Herbert Blumer (1962) emphasize that people do not respond to other people directly; instead, they respond to whatever they imagine other people to be. In human behavior – reality is constructed in peoples’ minds as they size one another up and guess at the feelings and impulses of one another. Whether a person is a friend, our enemy, or a stranger is not a characteristic of the person; that person is, to me, whatever 1 perceive him as being, at least until I change my perception. Whether he is good or bad is measured by my perception of him. Thus, I create reality about him in my own mind,’ and then 1 react to this reality that I have constructed. This does not mean that all reality is subjective — that it exists only in the mind. There are objective facts in the universe. The sun, moon, and Stars are real, and still would be there even if there were no humans to see them. Meanings are given to facts and to human actions by human beings. The symbolic interactionist perspective concentrates upon what meanings people find in other people’s actions, how these meanings are derived, and how others respond to them.
The Functionalist Perspective
According to functionalist perspective, the society is working in an organized way, and all the groups living in the society observe values and norms existing in the society.- Society is seen as a stable system and there is a tendency to establish and maintain a balanced and harmoniously operating system. In this perspective each group or institution fulfills certain functions and persists because it is functional. For example, school educates children and provides training in sports. Family as an institution, provides food and financial support to its members. Marriage, organizes sexual behaviour and assures legitimate children.
Social change disrupts the stable equilibrium of the society,, but before long a new equilibrium is regained. For example, large families were desired when death rates were high, and large families helped to ensure some survivors. Today, with a lower death rate, large families have become dysfunctional and threaten the welfare of the society. So a new equilibrium i.e. nuclear family is approaching. Thus, a value or practice which is functional at one time or place may become dysfunctional at another time or place. If a particular social change promotes a harmonious equilibrium, it is seem as functional; if it disrupts the equilibrium, it is dysfunctional; if it has no effects, it’ is nonfunctional.
The Conflict Perspective
Although it stems from the work of many scholars, the conflict perspective is most directly based upon the work of Karl Marx (1818-1883), who saw class conflict and class exploitation as the prime moving forces in history. Largely ignored by sociologists for many years, the conflict perspective has recently been revived by C. Wright Mills (1959), Collins 1975) and many others. Where functionalist see the normal state of society as one of stable equilibrium, conflict theorists see society in a continuous state of” conflict between groups and classes. Although Marx concentrated upon conflict between classes for ownership of productive wealth, modern conflict theorists take a less narrow
view. They see the struggle for power and income as a continuous process but one in’ which many categories of people appear as opponents — classes, races, nationalities, and even the sexes. They flame that the “shared values” which functionalist see as the glue holding society together do to really form a true consensus; instead this is an artificial consensus in which the dominant groups or classes impose their values and rules upon the rest of the people. According to them functionalist fail to ask the question, “functionally useful to whom? They accuse functionalist of a conservative bias, in that functionalist assume that this-“harmonious equilibrium” is beneficial to everyone, whereas it benefits some and penalizes others. Conflict theorists ask such questions as, “how-have the present patterns emerged from the contest between conflicting groups, each seeking its own advantage?” How do the dominant groups and classes achieve and maintain their position of privilege?” “How do they manipulate the institutions of society schools, churches, mass media, to protect their privileges” “Who benefits and who suffers from the present social arrangements?” “How can society be made more just and humane?”
Comparison of the Perspectives
Keeping in view the above discussion about different theoretical perspectives of sociology, it looks very difficult to answer the question, “which is the best perspective?” Each is a different way of looking at society. Each perspective views society from a different vantage point, asks different questions, and reaches different conclusions. Evolutionists focus upon the similarities in changing societies; interactionists focus upon the similarities in changing societies; interactionists focus upon the actual social behaviour of persons and groups; functionalist focus more heavily upon value consensus, order, and stability; conflict theorists focus more heavily upon inequality, tension and change. For most topics of study, there are some aspects for which each of the perspectives can be useful. For example, consider the development of the modern university. The evolutionary perspective might focus upon the procession of scholarly needs and arrangements, extending over several thousand years, which eventually led- to the development of the modern university. The interactionism perspective would not the ways in which scholarly needs have been defined at different times and the ways in which persons and groups dealt with one another in creating the university. The functionalist perspective would concentrate upon what changes made universities seem to be necessary, what purposes they fulfilled: for the society, and what effects universities have upon their students and upon societies. The conflict perspective would concentrate upon as to which groups and classes benefit from the university and how access to higher education operates to preserve the position of the privileged groups. For some problems, one perspective may be more useful than other. (Horton and Chester L Hunt, 1984: 15-20)