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By  and Alberto Palloni and Alberto Palloni


The original goal of this paper was to review the nature and applications of theories and models of diffusion in sociology. From the start it became evident, however, that the marginal advantages of producing a conventional review paper would not be substantial enough to contribute to the debate about the use of diffusion models in demographic analysis. Indeed, there are a number of very lucid, thorough, and authoritative reviews that are difficult to improve upon (see for example, Rogers, 1962, 1973, 1988, 1995 and Valente, 1995). But although the coverage and breadth of extant reviews is sufficient for a well-informed sociological audience, none of them is designed to inform demographic analysis except trivially, when a particular demographic process turns out to be a good illustration of a diffusion process. In addition, this literature is not geared to deal with generic problems faced in the explanation of demographic phenomena nor does it indicate how one can take advantage of new developments in the area. This gap is not altogether discouraging for it provides the material for a more productive discussion and elaboration of diffusion models and theories. And this is precisely what I set out to do in this paper. In particular, I have four interrelated goals or tasks: (1) to identify the backbone of diffusion models and theories in sociology, and to show that recent formulations and applications require robust, well-specified theories about social systems, and about the positions that individuals engaged in or exposed to diffusion occupy within the social structure; (2) to illustrate recent applications of diffusion models and theories in two key areas of sociology, social movements and social organizations; (3) to describe conditions for testing new hypotheses and conjectures that invoke diffusion processes, and take advantage of the richer formulations alluded to before. These conditions are strict, difficult to satisfy, and have implications for issues ranging from data collection to utilization of estimation procedures. I argue that unless these conditions are met, we will not be in a position to identify diffusion processes fro

Year: 2009
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