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general systems theory

  An attempt to develop universal statements about the common properties of superficially different systems, usually identified with the work of von Bertalanffy (1968). It was introduced to geographers during the 1960s as a structure which could draw together various strands of work undertaken during the discipline\'s quantitative revolution but dismissed by Chisholm (1967) as an \'irrelevant distraction\'.

The search for isomorphisms among different systems focused on three main principles:

{img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } allometry — the growth rate of a subsystem is proportional to that of the system as a whole; {img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } hierarchical structuring — as in central place theory (for isomorphisms see Woldenberg and Berry, 1967); and {img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } entropy.Chorley (1962) suggested that appreciation of the common cross-system principles in both human and physical geography would advance their integration — a task promoted in Bennett and Chorley\'s (1978) Environmental systems, whose subtitle — philosophy, analysis and control — mimics von Bertalanffy\'s. Haggett (1965), too, was stimulated by the search for isomorphisms, notably by d\'Arcy Thompson\'s book On growth and form (1917), which suggested similarities across subject matter.

Applications of general systems theory principles within human geography made few substantive achievements, however (the early work on macrogeography was a partial exception), and few geographers now search for such universals (cf. fractals). (RJJ)

References Bennett, R.J. and Chorley, R.J. 1978: Environmental systems: philosophy, analysis and control. London: Methuen; Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. von Bertalanffy, L. von 1968: General systems theory: foundation, development, applications. New York: G. Braziller; London: Allen Lane. Chisholm, M. 1967: General systems theory and geography. Transactions, Institute of British Geographers 42: 45-52. Chorley, R.J. 1962: Geomorphology and general systems theory. Geological Survey Professional Paper 500-B. Washington, D.C.: US Government Printing Office. Haggett, P. 1965: Locational analysis in human geography. London: Arnold. Thompson, W. d\'Arcy 1917: On growth and form. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Woldenberg, M.J. and Berry, B.J.L. 1967: Rivers and central places: analogous systems? Journal of Regional Science 7: 129-40.



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