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  • Why do some foreign practices take rootwhile others either arrive dead in thewater or take hold only to wither and die?Modern diffusion studies have focused prima-rily on the structural aspects of diffusion, orthe existence of tangible points of contact

    between adopters and adoptees, as well as theenvironmental contexts that modulate such inter-actions. But as Strang and Soule (1998:276)note, [S]tructural opportunities for meaning-ful contact cannot tell us what sorts of practicesare likely to diffuse, whereas an analysis of thecultural bases of diffusion speaks more direct-ly to what spreads, replacing a theory of con-nections with a theory of connecting.According to this more culturally mindedapproach, diffusing practices are most likely tobe adopted when they are first made congruentwith local cultural frames or understandings, andare thus rendered salient, familiar and com-pelling (Strang and Soule 1998:276; see alsoGottdiener 1985; Rogers 1995). In other cases,however, more than just congruence is need-ed for successful adoption; institutional sup-port, repeated exposure, and/or active instructionin the new practice are required for it to takehold in new settings. The original cultural pro-file of that practice is often transformed in theprocess (e.g., Appadurai 1996; Bhabha 1994;Guilln 2001; Watson 2002). Sometimes, more-over, it is the very difference in social, cultur-al, and political power between change agents

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    Jason Kaufman Orlando PattersonHarvard University Harvard University

    This article explores the dynamics of cross-national cultural diffusion through the study

    of a case in which a symbolically powerful cultural practice, the traditionally English

    sport of cricket, successfully diffused to most but not all countries with close cultural ties

    to England. Neither network ties, nor national values, nor climatic conditions account

    for this disparity. Our explanation hinges instead on two key factors: first, the degree to

    which elites chose either to appropriate the game and deter others from participating or

    actively to promote it throughout the population for hegemonic purposes; and second,

    the degree to which the game was popularized by cultural entrepreneurs looking to get

    and keep spectators and athletes interested in the sport. Both outcomes relate to the

    nature of status hierarchies in these different societies, as well as the agency of elites and

    entrepreneurs in shaping the cultural valence of the game. The theoretical significance of

    this project is thus the observation that the diffusion of cultural practices can be

    promoted or discouraged by intermediaries with the power to shape the cultural meaning

    and institutional accessibility of such practices.


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    Direct all correspondence to Jason Kaufman,Department of Sociology, 648 William James Hall,Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 02138 (, or to Orlando Patterson,Department of Sociology, 520 William James Hall,Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 02138( The authors thank Joel Ngugiand Michael Nguyen for their extraordinary effortsas research assistants. Cynthia Rockwell and MaryQuigley provided invaluable clerical assistance. Thestaff at the National Library of Canada was bothhelpful and accommodating. Andy Markovits pro-vided information and inspiration for our own endeav-or into American exceptionalism and the sociologyof sport. Peter Moskos helped with baseball history.The authors also thank Jerry A. Jacobs and the edi-torial staff at ASR, as well as Michle Lamont, FrankDobbin, Chris Winship, and the members of theCulture Brown-Bag group at Harvard for their crit-ical feedback on earlier drafts of this manuscript.

  • and adopters that accounts for successful long-term diffusion.

    One case that encompasses all of these fac-tors is the cross-national diffusion of cricket.Cricket originated in England as an informalrural game, though it quickly emerged into ahighly competitive sport. Over time, cricketevolved into an English national pastime, alongwith soccer, rugby, and horse racing (Allen1990). Cricket began diffusing to other countrieswhen British soldiers and settlers brought itwith them to the various colonies of the empire,and today, most Commonwealth countries sup-port active cricket cultures, though not all.

    The case of Canada is particularly striking inthis regard. Cricket was popular in Canada andthe United States in the mid-nineteenth centu-ryin fact, the first official international crick-et match in the world took place betweenAmerican and Canadian elevens in 1844(Boller 1994a:23). The games popularity rivaledthat of baseball until the late nineteenth centu-ry, after which interest declined sharply. Thegame languished in both countries until quiterecently, when new immigrants from theCaribbean and South Asia began arriving inNorth America in signif icant numbers(Gunaratnam 1993; Steen 1999). This pattern ofadoption-then-rejection poses important sub-stantive and theoretical issues regarding thecross-national diffusion of cultural practices.Given Canadasand to a lesser degree,Americasdemographic, cultural, andsociopolitical connections to Britain, the gamesunexpected demise there is puzzling, especial-ly in contrast to its successful diffusion in far lessBritish parts of the Commonwealth. At thesame time, this disjuncture also seems at oddswith several important perspectives in the soci-ological study of diffusion.


    There is widespread agreement that diffusion isthe transmission, adoption, and eventual accul-turation of an innovation by a recipient popu-lation (Coleman, Katz, and Menzel 1966;Rogers 1995; Wejnert 2002; cf. Palloni 2001).Most sociological studies of the diffusionprocess aim to identify the mechanisms bywhich an innovation spreads as well as the rateat which it does so in a given population.

    Although there is now a rich body of importantfindings about this process, several major prob-lems and gaps still exist.

    One major failing of the diffusion literatureis the tendency to overlook cases where inno-vations are transmitted but eventually rejected,as well as cases where adoption might havebeen expected but did not occur. Palloni (2001:7375) highlights two aspects of this problemin his important recent review of the field. First,he notes the common failure to try and accountfor the persistence of diffused practices in theirnew surroundingshow and why, in otherwords, do diffused practices become part of thelived experience of those who have adoptedthem? Second, he notes the obverse: that afterthe initial adoption of an innovation, mecha-nisms might arise that undermine its retention.Palloni (2001:73) adds that, Despite the factthat this is a key part of a diffusion process, itis rarely mentioned and almost never explicit-ly modeled or studied. The problem, we sus-pect, is that many diffusion studies track culturalpractices that are not commonly rejected, suchas the adoption of new, time-tested medical oragricultural practices. Strang and Soule (1998:268) observe, for example, that there is a strongselection bias in diffusion research, where inves-tigators choose ultimately popular [i.e., widelydiffused] practices as appropriate candidatesfor study. Issues such as the persistence andrejection of diffused practices are thus generallyoverlooked in the literature.

    Another shortcoming of diffusion studies ishighlighted by Wejnert (2002:299302), whonotes a tendency in the literature to ignore therole of characteristics unique to the practice orthing being diffused. Specific features of theinnovation being adopted, such as its potentialfor replication and change, play an important butoften overlooked role in the ultimate success orfailure of diffusion. By confining their studiesto simple physical objects or cultural routinesthat are diffused at the micro-social level, dif-fusion scholars have tended to create advancedformal models that overlook real-world obsta-cles to diffusionthose posed by the nature,complexity, continuity, and potential mutabili-ty of the innovations themselves. Wejnert (2002)also notes the often overlooked distinctionbetween innovations that are diffused at themacro- and micro-social levels. Those involv-ing large collective actors such as countries and


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  • industries likely have different consequencesand diffusion mechanisms than those thatinvolve mainly individuals or firms.

    The dominant relational approach to dif-fusion research in sociology has improved ourknowledge of the role of social networks in thetransmission of information and ideas (e.g.Buskens and Yamaguchi 1999), but it tends tounderspecify the role of social structural factorssuch as class, status, and power in the adoptionor rejection of innovations. In this light, Burt(1987), Marsden and Podolny (1990), and Vanden Bulte and Lilien (2001) have revisedColeman, Katz, and Menzels (1966) classicstudy of the adoption of a new antibiotic drugamong a community of Midwestern doctors,but diffusion research has otherwise largelyneglected these topics. It is significant, noteMizruchi and Fein (1999), that sociologists havewidely overlooked the role of power inDiMaggio and Powells (1983) celebrated studyof the diffusion of organizational forms.Inequality, in particular, seems to be a neglect-ed subject in the diffusion literature. Rogers(1995:7) makes a distinction be