||A perspective from which the world is seen as a set of differentiated and interdependent systems, whose collective actions and interactions are \'instances of repeatable and predictable regularities in which form and function can be assumed to be related\' (Bennett and Chorley, 1978), and which explains these form-function relations in terms of their role in maintaining the continuity or integrity of the system(s). Modern functionalism is usually traced back to advances in evolutionary biology in the nineteenth century (see Darwinism, Social Darwinism), but in geography \'organismic\' analogies of the earth, its regions and its states pre-dated Darwinian evolutionary theory. Although Darwin provided for the formal articulation of functionalism in many social sciences (as well as the natural sciences), his impact on human geography was, in these terms, less decisive (see Stoddart, 1986): the discipline \'rarely claimed for itself a philosophy of functionalism in the way that anthropology and sociology [did]\' and while \'much of the empirical work in geography could be construed as functionalist in form\' its precepts \'tended to remain implicit rather than overt in geographical thinking\' (Harvey, 1969).
Before the Second World War, the most explicit formulations of functionalism in European geography were found in parts of Ratzel\'s anthropogeography, and in the writings of the French school of human geography (particularly the notion of \'terrestrial unity\' proposed by Vidal de la Blache: see possibilism). This was scarcely surprising since Vidal was influenced by the programmatic sociology of Durkheim who was \'without doubt the most important single influence upon the development of functionalism in the [twentieth] century\' (Giddens, 1977). In North America Sauer\'s cultural geography was also strongly functionalist. He conceived of landscape in explicitly functionalist terms as \'a reality as a whole that is not expressed by a consideration of the constituent parts separately\', that has \'form, structure and function and hence position in a system, and [which] is subject to development, change and completion\' (Leighly, 1963). Similarly, his conception of culture was heavily indebted to Kroeber\'s functionalist anthropology and was largely responsible for the incorporation of what Duncan (1980) called the \'superorganic\' into American cultural geography.
Until the 1970s, however, most of post-war human geography showed little interest in (and even a distrust of) social theory and social science and preferred instead to draw upon models provided by the physical sciences. These provided two principal points of entry for functionalism. The indirect route was through the advance of neo-classical economics into economic geography: the so-called \'marginal revolution\' of Jevons, Walras and others, with its central concern with the maintenance of an equilibrium between interdependent markets, depended in large measure on a deliberate analogy with statistical mechanics. The more direct route was through systems analysis, whose principles and procedures emerged from control engineering and thermodynamics and which often displayed a similar concern with the maintenance of (dynamic) equilibrium (Bennett and Chorley, 1978). Because of this double history, functionalism advanced in post-war human geography with little or no acknowledgement of parallel developments in social theory. Even in social geography there were no excursions into the structural functionalism proposed by Parsons and others, despite the affinities between some of its formulations and those of the various systems approaches being canvassed within the discipline.
As human geography moved closer to the social sciences, however, functionalism advanced on a broader front. Particularly important was the rapid incorporation of ideas from historical materialism, notably the formal theorization of capitalism as not only a crisis-ridden but also crisis-dependent and hence self-regulating mode of production (cf. regulation theory). Functionalism also stalked in the shadows of critical theory: Habermas\'s theory of communicative action was advertised as \'a critique of functionalist reason\', for example, yet Parsons remained a considerable presence in his work (Habermas, 1987; see Joas, 1991; McCarthy, 1991).
Most of these more recent discussions were not burdened with the language of traditional functionalism, however, and their central concern was usually the construction of capitalism as a totality. At the same time many of these formulations were called into question. The critique of functionalism was reopened through a series of major debates over the relations between functionalism and Marxism (see Cohen, 1982; Elster, 1982). The most frequent objections to functionalism were at once logical, e.g. the unintended or unanticipated consequences of a form of social conduct cannot be used to explain its existence in the first place, and substantive, e.g. functionalism characteristically assumes a purpose (\'needs\' or \'goals\') without a purposive agent. Indeed, it was the concern with human agency that united many of these early critics. Some of them insisted on the importance of methodological individualism and refused purely \'structural\' explanations (e.g. Duncan and Ley, 1982; Elster, 1982: see humanistic geography), while others argued for a bounded conception of human agency within a more inclusive structuration theory that was advertised as a \'non-functionalist manifesto\' (Giddens, 1981). The subsequent rise of postmodernism, with its suspicion of meta-narratives and J.-F. Lyotard\'s (1984) injunction to \'wage war on totality\' hammered another nail in the coffin of functionalism. The assault was raised to a new intensity by the advance of post-structuralism through human geography and its characteristic strategy of de-centring and dis-placing the social field. Thus Gibson-Graham (1996) objected that dominant conceptions of capitalism \'more often portrayed [it] as a unified entity than as a set of practices scattered over a landscape\'. In their view the architectural metaphor of capitalism as a structure conferred upon it an essential integrity, \'a structural and systemic unity\' possessing \'qualities of durability, stability and persistence\' and hence rendered it more or less \'impervious to ordinary political and cultural interventions\' (pp. 254-5). Whatever one makes of this, it is a forceful reminder that the discourse of functionalism has always carried profoundly political implications.Â (DG)
References Bennett, R.J. and Chorley, R.J. 1978: Environmental systems: philosophy, analysis, control. London: Methuen; Cohen, G.A. 1982: Functional explanation, consequence explanation and Marxism. Inquiry 25: 27-56; Duncan, J.S. 1980: The superorganic in American cultural geography. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 70: 181-98; Duncan, J.S. and Ley, D. 1982: Structural Marxism and human geography: a critical assessment. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 72: 30-59; Elster, J. 1982: Marxism, functionalism and game theory: the case for methodological individualism. Theory and society 11: 453-82; Gibson-Graham, J.K. 1996: The end of capitalism (as we knew it): a feminist critique of political economy. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell; Giddens, A. 1977: Studies in social and political theory. London: Hutchinson; Giddens, A. 1981: A contemporary critique of historical materialism. Vol. 1: Power, property and the state. London: Macmillan; Habermas, J. 1987: The theory of communicative action. Vol. 2: A critique of functionalist reason. Cambridge: Polity Press; Harvey, D. 1969: Explanation in geography. London: Edward Arnold; Joas, H. 1991: The unhappy marriage of hermeneutics and functionalism. In A. Honneth and H. Joas, eds, Communicative action. Cambridge: Polity Press, 97-118; Leighly, J., ed., 1963: Land and life: the writings of Carl Ortwin Sauer. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press; Luhmann, N. 1981: The differentiation of society. New York: Columbia University Press; Lyotard, J.-F. 1984: The postmodern condition: a report on knowledge. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press; McCarthy, T. 1991: Complexity and democracy: or the seducements of systems theory. In A. Honneth and H. Joas, eds, Communicative action. Cambridge: Polity Press, 119-39; Stoddart, D.R. 1986: On geography and its history. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.
Suggested Reading Gibson-Graham (1996), ch. 11; Giddens (1977), ch 2; Harvey (1969), ch. 22.