Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 13

Where is a Research Frontier? Author(s): Edward A. Ackerman Reviewed work(s): Source: Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol.

53, No. 4 (Dec., 1963), pp. 429-440 Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of the Association of American Geographers Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2561684 . Accessed: 12/11/2011 09:17
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

Taylor & Francis, Ltd. and Association of American Geographers are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Annals of the Association of American Geographers.

http://www.jstor.org

of the ANNALS Association of American Geographers


Volume 53 December 1963 Number 4
2

WHERE

IS A RESEARCH

FRONTIER?1

EDWARD A. ACKERMAN
of CarnegieInstitution Washington
.. .

Act Terence (185-159 B.C.), Heauton Timoroumenos, I, Sc. 2, line 36.

take warning from others of what may be to your own advantage."

was bornin the year 1911. The halfcentury since that time has contained some of the most tremendousevents in the historyof the human race. Among them have been two world wars of unprecedentedextentand violence, the near doubling of the total popula-

tion of the world,3the rise of the great Communist states, and other events profoundly changing the course of human history. But preeminent among all are the growthof science and thegrowth man's capacityto apply of his mind to the problems of learning and discovery. Many striking examplesmightbe offered by the changes withinscience, and the changes 1 Addressgivenby the Honorary of President the by at Geographers its59thAnnual wrought science,in these 50 years. To me, of Association American 4, Denver,Colorado,September 1963. a most striking Meeting, illustration a comparisonof is of 2 Thispapermakes to no pretense coverage all the our knowledge of the universe in 1911 and may be viewed, or prac- now. In ways in which geography 1911 what men knew of space was as ticed. It discussesgeography a science. There is to scholar- confined our own galaxy. Our solar system somegeographic for equal justification placing as shipamongthehumanities, WilliamL. Thomashas was thought to be near the center of that notedin a letterto me (June 24, 1963). If such a galaxy, whose shape was only dimly conjecfollowHowardMum- tured. Now we know that the sun is distinction needed,one might and its are "The humanities ... in fordJones his definition: secondarysatellite,the earth, are far out on a groupof subjectsdevotedto the studyof man as a being otherthan a biologicalproductand different one arm of our vast, beautiful,spiral galaxy. (Howard Mumford We know also that thereare at least a billion entity" a from socialorsociological One "WhatAretheHumanities?," GreatSociety such galaxies withinthe space our telescopes Jones, spatialdistrias [1959], p. 17). Insofar we encounter we of to not bution entities amenable themethods science, have penetrated. Furthermore, have seen recordof objects fivebillion our to and of interest any seriousscholar, subjectdoes the photographic But one mayalso question, light-years content. have a humanistic away, movingaway from at half us of do, as somescientists the appropriateness thesedi- thespeed of light.These 50 yearshave brought As vidinglines betweenscience and the humanities. a more profoundchange in our knowledge of Marston Bates provocativelyhas said, " . . . science is of to onlyone of man'sapproaches the understanding the cosmos than was achieved in all man's . and of himself.By understanding,. . previous existence. the universe chaos to I meantrying makesenseout of theapparent our minds Althoughastronomy may stretch of systems of of the outerworldin terms the symbol most of all, there are other examples of adthe be thehumanmind. This might considered functionof all art;and in thatcase I am led, halfseriously, vances in our learningand knowledge,of the art to call sciencethe characteristic formof Western deepest meaningand most comprehensive imcivilization . . . the sciences and the humanities forma pact. Among them we might mention the because scienceis one of thehumanifalsedichotomy,

SCIENCE IN THE LAST FIFTY YEARS

p. 1139).

Remarks: Process," ties" (MarstonBates, "Summary the Man's Role in Changing Face oftheEarth"[1956],
Compare also William Shockley, ". . . the

of practice scienceis an art"(Science,Vol. 140 [1963], p. 384).

3Estimatedmid-1963world populations:3.25 billion; 1910 populations billion(1963, extrapolated 1.7 fromUnited Nationsdata; 1910 extrapolations from estimates W. F. Willcoxand A. M. Carr-Saunders). by

429

430

EDWARDA. ACKERMAN

December

and geologyless visible. Comparisons the generaltheoryof relativity, dismembering shorter, of the atom by nuclear physics,the discovery among the social sciences were more difficult, the psychology,and of the biochemicalbasis of heredity, devel- but perhaps anthropology, for their opments in engineeringthat made possible economics deserve some distinction of the ManhattanProjectand the orbiting men accomplishmentsin the pre-World War II among subin space, and the chemical discoveries and period. However, the differences in developments social organizationthat have groups within a field were in most cases as promotedthe world population explosion. It pronounced as differencesbetween major has been a trulyepochal period, withoutany fields. equal in history.Not least has been the final THE PLACE OF GEOGRAPHY IN THE world acceptance of science as a tremendous ADVANCING FRONT social force. As one views this panorama of glorioussciWe are, naturally,especially interestedin entificachievementin the last 50 years, he the place that geography occupied in this cannotfail to be impressedby two things:the advancingfront science. There is no reason of effort it progresses;and to avoid frankness.I am sure that all but a as unityof scientific great differencesin the rates of progress few here would agree that our contributions among the subdivisionsof science. have been modestthusfar. We have not been The first observation was skillfullyde- on the forwardsalients in science, nor, until scribed by the biologist Frank R. Lillie in recently, have we been associated closelywith is discovery a trulyepigenetic those who have. The reasons are not difficult 1915. "Scientific develop to find. During the early part of this 50-year processin whichthe germsof thought of in the totalenvironment knowledge. Inves- period, in the 'teens and early twenties,our tigationof particularproblemscannot be ac- closest associations were with history and limits;progress geology. Geological studyof thatperiod, and celerated beyond well-defined of in each depends on themovement thewhole of the thirties, was not among the inspiring of science."4 growing pointsin science. The history and the Lillie's observationmust be considered in geologyconnections not correct predisdid the the lightof the second point,the differentials positionof our scholarsof the 'teens and early of progress among separate subfields of the twenties to the deceptive simplicityof geoscientific The progressof "science graphic determinism.This was perhaps one community. as a whole" at any giventimein large measure of the last appearances of the Newtonianview few subjectswith of the world. of is the progress a relatively growing points. As growing-pointsalients As determinism began to fade and indein pendent geographydepartments groundforpractitioners move,theyfurnish sporadically otherdisciplinesto stand on and in turnpush appeared in thiscountry, geographyturnedto This is what makes inter- association with the social sciences of the into new territory. among the sciences so impor- period. "Possibilism"in man's relationto the communication tant,and even morethe properchoice of those earthtook the place of determinism. Because with whom we communicate. To paraphrase of the limitationsof the social sciences and every scientiststands historyat the time, these associations were an ancient observation, on the shouldersof giants. But one mightadd onlyslightly moreproductivesourcesof inspito that it is important stand on the shoulders ration than geology. It was only much later, of the rightgiant. The selectionis as impor- indeed in the early fifties, when association tant as the standing. In the period between with the social sciences bore its soundest physicsand the math- fruits geography.This was in the methods 1910 and themid-1940's, for ematical disciplinesstood out as examples of descended frommathematicalstatistics, first the giants.5 Chemistrywas of shorter sta- applied in biometrics, anthropometry, and ture in this comparison,biology considerably
4 FrankR. Little,"The History the Fertilization of Vol. 43 (1916), pp. 39-53. Science, Problem," to reflect is 5 The above comparison not intended of evaluations the time. popular,or even professional, General appreciation events in mathematics of and physicsduringthe late thirties, example,did not for come untilthe mid-forties. theywere sourcesof Yet basic thoughton methods that have affectedall sciences.

1963

WHERE IS A RESEARCH FRONTIER?

431

some of us saw geogeconometrics.Their full application has not morphology.In effect, raphy as an end in itselfratherthan in the yet run its course. to broader contextas a contributor a larger scientificgoal. Perhaps this is the fate of INDEPENDENCE AND SEPARATION OF GEOGRAPHY many specializations. in interest geograI began my professional Insistenceon the independenceand separaphy at a time when the old moorings to tion in the 1930's and 1940's may seem a geologywere almostsevered. The gropingfor shockingly incorrect statement some of you. to solid footingamong the social sciences was Did not geography alone recognize its relawell underway.6 The geographers who turned tions to both the physical sciences and the in the directionof the social sciences made a social sciences? Did not geographydeal conprescientchoice of direction, but the difficul- stantly the withthe data accumulatedthrough tiesconfronting were enormous, us considering efforts other disciplines? Indeed, was not of the methodsthen at our disposal. In the face geography even alert to analogous methods of those difficulties, was only natural that of inquiry from other disciplines? One can it we became somewhatintrospective. We tried cite such major statementsin the field as to build a platform, it were, fromour own Barrows'"Geography Human Ecology,"and as as materials and to anchor it ourselves.7 This Sauer's "The Morphologyof Landscape"9 as search for a professional identity was, of proof of this alertness. But I must note course,found duringotherperiods in the his- that both these statements came in the midtory of geography. It goes back at least to twenties,and thereafter at least 25 years for the 19thcentury Germangeographers.Alfred an atmosphere of separatism and indepenHettner and others in Germany undertook dence characterized profession.10 the Furtherinfluentialstudies from the early 1900's on- more, morphology was not a particularly ward. But the succession of methodological happy choice as an analogue method,and the appraisals in the United States that com- hint given by Barrows on ecology was never menced with Harlan Barrows'"Geographyas seriouslyfollowed up by his colleagues. For Human Ecology"8 in 1923 and continuedfor science at large, morphology already was nearlyforty years must certainly rank as one becoming a somewhat sterile concept when of the most intensiveefforts toward this end. we took to it, and the analytical methods of Our searchfora professional identity to the twentiesand thirtieswere not yet equal led an intellectualindependence and eventually to the multivariate problemsof ecology.11The to a degree of isolationagainst which a num- concept that became dominantamong us was ber of the risingyoungergenerationof geog- that of "areal differentiation," derived from raphershave now reacted. In our search for Hettner and introducedin the United States a solid footing,a meaningfulimage of our- by Sauer.12 This concept favored (although selves, many of us tended to separate our- did not demand logically) a goal of investigaselves from other sciences. Our principal I Carl 0. Sauer, "The Morphology communicationswere with interdisciplinary of Landscape," of other sciences which also had problems of University CaliforniaPublicationsin Geography, Vol.2 (1925), pp. 19-53. and geoisolation,like cultural anthropology 10 The drive fortheindependent department typified
The Blaut,"Objectiveand Relationship," Vol. Geographer, 14 (1962), pp. 1-7. "In Professional thisrespectwe behaved like the social sciences: our had its roots in weakness,like theirs, philosophical conunsolvedproblems.Their problems chronically values,causes,and socialwholes. Our problem, cerned then as now, concernedthe nature of our subject matter." School" of 7The work CarlSauerand the"California was anthropology an exwithcultural in collaboration ception. 8 Harlan H. Barrows, "Geography as Human of Ecology," Annals,Association AmericanGeograVol. 13 (1923), pp. 1-14. phers,
6 Cf. J.M.

thisatmosphere the time. Againthe interest the at of California groupin cultural anthropology be cited may as an exception. 11Barrows had trueinsight stressing in "place relations," his concept geography humanecology but of as setforth ambitious field. Neither too a qualitative nor quantitative methods the timeoffered of much solid ground exploiting ecologicalconcept. At least for the in retrospect can see the ecological concept of we Barrows' timeas incompletely formed (i.e., theadjustment an organism environment). has nowbeen of to It replacedby the muchmorepowerful monistic concept of an ecosystem, whichorganism in and environment are one interacting entity. 12 Sauer,op. cit.,p. 20.

432

EDWARD

A. ACKERMAN

December

tionindependent the goals of othersciences. of The same mightbe said of anotherimportant concept in the field, that of areal functional organization,introduced by Platt.13 On the otherhand,the workof Sauer and his disciples did findcommongroundwithculturalanthropology, but it also was a somewhat isolated science until the 1940's. In our desire to make our declaration of independenceviable,we neglectedto maintain a view of the advancing front science as a of whole. We acted as thoughwe did not believe in anythingmore than the broadest generalities about the universalityof scientific method. In effectwe neglected to appraise continuouslythe most profound current of change in our time. We neglected an axiom: The course of science as a whole determines the progress of its parts, in their greater or lesser degrees.
INFLUENCE OF MATHEMATICAL STATISTICS

What did we miss in the course we took? For one thing,we missed early contact with developmentsin mathematicalstatistics, and early touch with the antecedentsof systems analysis. The scholars whose thought influenced life (and social) systems concepts greatly, like R. A. Fisher and Karl Pearson in biology and anthropology, Alfred Lotka in biology,Sewall Wrightin genetics,and L. L. Thurstone in psychology,were all active in the 1920's and 1930's. The floweringof the application of their techniques and concepts awaited the availabilityof electroniccomputers and mathematicalprogress in the late 1940's and early 1950's, but they provided forcefulorganizingadvances in genetics and other biological fields,in physical anthropology, demography, and economics psychology, from15 to 25 years earlierthan in geography. We thus missed for a period the new thought theirtechniques generated,because the techniques were essential keys to communication of thatthought.14
18 GeograSee R. S. Platt,Field Studyin American of of phy,University Chicago Department Geography ResearchPaper 61 (Chicago: 1959), especiallypp. 302-51. of demonstration thesetechniques 14 An interesting in in occurred 1938, ground geography on falling sterile M. statistician G. Kendallprewhenthemathematical of sentedhis paper "The GeographicalDistribution

Withinthe last decade we have made good our initialfailureto respond to these modern techniques. We have even felt the influence of physics,as a few have experimented with the application of physical analogues to the phenomena of distribution.Although not a few among us have been uneasy about theirmeaning,these techniques already have proved theirpower. Mathematicalanalysisis in a recognizedpartof instruction alertdepartments of geography. We can only welcome the growth of these methods, because they have been a notable and needed stimulusto the rigorof our thinking.Even more important,they increase our capacity to communicate preciselywith workersin otherfields of science. Is the mathematicization our discipline of the way of our future? In a sense, yes. The year is not far offwhen a geographerwill be unable to keep abreast of his field without in training mathematics.Furthermore, will he findit increasingly difficult conductmeanto ingful research without such training. But here we must entermore than a word of caution. There is a great deal more to science than the application of mathematics,or of rigorouslogic. We musttake care to examine carefullythe paths of research down which our computerized mathematical colleagues lead us, or perhaps push us. The danger of a dead end and nonsense is not removed by "hardware"and symboliclogic. Beforewe go too farwe should see what else thereis about science at large that produces its "growing points." What determines how productivethe use of statisticsand hardware will be? In a few otherfieldsscientists facingproblems are of this kind that are somewhatout of control
CropProductivity England"before RoyalStatisin the ticalSociety (Journal RoyalStatistical Society, Vol. 102 [1939], pp. 21-62). This studywas an analysisof covariance among cropsin the48 English ten counties. Besidestheinteresting direct conclusions drew, he Kendall made some provocative about the observations of a similarity statistical techniques studying psyfor chologicalproblemand for studying geographical a problem. However,the two geographers present, L. Dudley Stampand E. C. Willats,devotedtheircomon ments Kendall'spapermainly its shortcomings in to interpreting observable the landscape. So faras I know, there was no sequel in geographical to study Kendall's I interesting exploration. am indebtedto BrianJ. L. for to Berry callingmyattention Kendall's paper.

1963

WHERE IS A RESEARCH FRONTIER?

433

beforethe United States P. H. Abelson,Testimony and on SenateCommittee Aeronautical Space Sciences on hearings NationalGoals in Space, June10, 1963.) fieldinvestithrough 16 The geographer mayobserve withthe use of statistical gation;he may experiment models(or idealizedreality). 17 Warren Weaver, "Science, Learning and the Convocaat WholeofLife,"Address 70thAnniversary December,1961. of tion,DrexelInstitute Technology,

today. Recent attentionto the scientific But thereis more to it than this. The mind part of space exploration an illustration.15 is of the scientist, less than that of the poet no or musician, must be structured thought by NONQUANTIFYING ATTRIBUTES OF SCIENCE and experiencebefore it reaches the creative Can we make any observationabout the stage. Some persons are able so to structure methods of science at large that will enable their minds more easily than others. It has under been said, for example,that Irving Langmuir us to keep needed mathematicization control?There are a greatmanydefinitions of always saw matter,of whateverform,wherscience. I am sure thatmanyof you are famil- everhe was, in terms itsmolecularstructure, of I iar withmostof them. One definition like is: thus opening the way automaticallyfor his "Science is a quest for regularity underlying many remarkable insights. Every scientist diverse events." This quest proceeds through does this in some degree. There is no doubt careful, verifiable observation and description; that there is such a thing as "thinking geothrough the constructionof hypotheses,to graphically."To structure mindin termsof his project reality into the unknown; testingof spatial distributions'8 theircorrelations and is the hypotheses the through conductof experi- a most importanttool for anyone following ment or further observation;'6replicationof our discipline. The more the better. If there and observation;and the building is any really meaningfuldistinctionamong experiment of a body of theoryfromverifiedhypotheses scientists, is in this mental structuring. it It which in turn becomes the basis for new is one reason why we should approach the and new observations hypotheses, and experi- impositionof analogues fromother fields,as ments. Mathematical and statisticalanalyses from physics, withtheutmost care. The mental have found theirimportant place in this pro- subtratefor inspiration does differ fromfield cedure because they aid in obtaining exact to field. and because theyaid enormously A thirdimportant observation, ingredient science is a of in designing hypotheses that lead into the highly developed sense of problem. In my unknown. pleasant and valued associationwithProfessor I mightstop here,and you would recognize Charles Colby at the University Chicago, of this as a portraitof science. However, it is a I can remember frequentreference the his to portrait only of its skeleton. Three important cultivation such a sense. I now realize how of additions provide the all-important life and wise and perceptive his advice was. In my direction that have figured wherever great duties of the past five years at the Carnegie strides in science have been made. I have Institution Washington, have had to mainof I already mentioned one: cross-disciplinary tain current knowledge about research in communication. several biological and physicalsciences. In all The second is what some men have of them this sense of problem is very keen described as the intuitive side of science. where outstandingprogress is being made. Warren Weaver has said, ". . . science is, at Herbert Simon has observed that science is its core, a creativeactivity the human mind essentially of This observation problemsolving.19 whichdepends upon luck,hunch,insight, thatit deservesa few words of intu- is so important ition,imagination, taste, and faith,just as do elaboration. A sense of problem,at its most is all the pursuitsof the poet, musician,painter, meaningful, really a sense of the hierarchy of problemsin a broad field,and possibly in or essayist, philosopher."'7 all science. 15 is fear Somescientists thatspace "hardware" causEvery major field withwhich I am familiar of misallocation even dangerous, ing an inefficient, has an easily recognized overriding problem. talent theUnitedStates. (See in scientific high-quality
18 By "spatialdistributions," "earth-spatial distributions"is, of course,understood here. They are the parallelof distributional in associations other sciences. 19Herbert Simon,The New Scienceof Management Decision (New York: 1960), p. 34. There are other similar like statements, thatofT. S. Kuhn,who calls it "puzzle-solving" (The Structure Scientific of Revolutions[Chicago: 1962], pp. 35 ff.).

434

EDWARDA. ACKERMAN

December

of development thetheoretfurther The first, The overridingproblems always lie behind of the frontiers investigation. They are remark- ical, is our true innerrefugeas specialists. It the in ably few, and all fade into infinity their is what helps to structure mind"geographis the ultimateforms. Indeed, the overriding prob- ically." The morerigorously structuring lems of all science may be reduced to four: done, the more likelythe disciplinewill have (1) the problem of the particulatestructure a cuttingedge that places it on a research of energy and matter,which physics treats; frontier.However unrelated and esoteric it study of (2) the structure and contentof the cosmos, may seem, the cultivation theoretical is and whichastronomy, astrophysics, geophysics of spatial distributions basic. If we have had any generally accepted treat; (3) the problemof the originand physiological unity of life forms; and (4) the overridingproblem in the past, it is areal a of functioning systemsthat include multiple differentiation,conceptwidely accepted and by numbers of variables, especially life systems usefullyemployed,particularly American and social systems.Othersmightexpressthese and German geographers. Its rationale has defended problems differently, I believe that each been ably presented and skillfully but of themis a beacon orienting researchon the by Richard Hartshorne.His mostrecentdefias nitionof areal differentiation the "accurate, frontiers the rapidlyadvancing fields. of and interpreand rationaldescription Beneath each overriding problemare major orderly, second-level problems,and finallythe prob- tation of the variable characterof the earth still lems translatabledirectlyinto experiment or surface"20 standsas a usefulgeneralguide observational investigation. For example, a to geographic method. A second preoccupamajor secondaryproblemrelated to the over- tion, but less widely held, was with the riding one of the origin of life is the de- geographical expressionof culture processes. in criptionof life in pre-Cambriantimes. It is I shall refermainlyto areal differentiation of translated directly into a search in pre- the remarks the nextfew paragraphs. Cambrianrocksforstablechemicalcompounds known to be indicatorsof life. In this way A NEW LOOK AT GEOGRAPHY S Philip Abelson and his collaboratorsat the OVERRIDING PROBLEM Carnegie Institution have produced firmeviAt a timewhen the social sciences provided dence of the existence of life at least 2.6 us with very little firm assistance, and we billion years ago. our independence,areal differThe same relation among the hierarchy were stressing entiationof the earth's surface did serve as of problems can be seen in growing-point research in astronomy,geophysics, biology, an overridingproblem. It is time that we of and elsewhere. I do not mean thatall research recognize the limitations this concept. Do we need somethingmore for a purposeful is so organized, or is distinguishedby the sense of problem. Most commonlyan appre- selection of research problems leading us to research frontiers?If we look at ciation of the hierarchy problemsis shared significant of carefully, by relativelyfew in each field. It is indeed the concept of areal differentiation we see thatit did not oftenlead us to common one of the most troublesomequestions facing the administrator public researchfunds in groundwiththe othersciences. We see it also of as endingin a somewhatstaticgoal. In effect, the nation at the presenttime. of it stresseda hierarchy regions as our hierarchyof problems. GEOGRAPHY IN THE MIRROR OF ALL SCIENCES I suggest that we take a fresh look at By now my theme should be obvious: The the hierarchyof problems, ignoringfor the in moment should seek his personalidentity geographer some of our traditional pointsof view. the mirror provided by all sciences. How is I noted earlierthatscience is problemsolving. intofuture thistranslated geographicprogress? 20 The developmentof a professional in identity on Hartshorne, Perspective the Natureof Richard geographyhas two aspects: the futuredevel- Geography(Chicago: 1959), p. 21. The conceptof "stems from as Hartshorne explains, opment of the theoretical study of spatial arealdifferentiation of Richtofen's synthesis the views of Humboldtand and a reappraisal of the over- Bitter, has been mostfully distributions; and in expounded Hettner's (ibid.,p. 12). riding problem recognized by our discipline. writings"

1963

WHERE IS A RESEARCHFRONTIER?

435

space relations." Platt,"A ReviewofRegionalGeography," Annals,Association AmericanGeographers, of Theory- Vol. 47 (1957), p. 190. However, appropriateness the in Kenneth Boulding his"GeneralSystems E. Science,Vol. 2 offormal to systems concepts geographic of The Skeleton Science,"Management research not is nine by (1956), pp. 197-208. He distinguishes "levels"of mentioned Platt. 26 A very A stated gracefully description theindivisiof in orderof complexity. social systems increasing ble attribute is (and others)of systems givenby Sir his among levels. is order system oftheeighth Beer in "BelowtheTwilight einer Stafford Kosmos:Entwurf 22 Alexander Arch-A Mytholvon Humboldt, in 1845), ogy of Systems," Systems:Researchand Design Vol. Weltbeschreibung, 1 (Stuttgart: physischen RichardHartshorne, Perspective (Donald P. Eckman,ed.) (Wiley,New York: 1961), p. 68. Quoted from pp. 1-25. p. on the Natureof Geography, 162.
21 A useful by is of short categorization systems given

The problemsthat can be examinedmeaning- of man."23 Compare also Barrows' "geografullydepend on the methodswhich are avail- phers . . . define their subject as dealing solely able fortheirsolution. As the centurieshave with the mutual relationsbetween man and gone on, men have steadily increased their his natural environment. 'naturalenvironBy capacity for problem solving, but the truly ment' they of course mean the combined importantchanges in methods of problem physicaland biological environments.... Thus solvinghave been remarkably few.They might defined, geographyis the science of human read somewhat as follows: writing; Arabic ecology."24 All these statementshave some numerals; analytical geometryand calculus; similarity. However,the concept of the world and the combinationof techniques that com- of man as a vast interacting, interdependent prise systems analysis. There was a time, entitypermitsus an effective orientation a to perhaps just after the Second World War, set ofproblemsat different levelsin a way that when the inclusionof systems analysisin such we have never had before.25Furthermore, it a list mighthave been considered controverputs us in a contextof sharp new problemsial. That is no longer true. Systems, you as If are willing,it also know, are among the most pervasive and solving methods.26 we places us in associationand in close communicharacteristicphenomena in nature. Each cation with other sciences whose overriding human being, man or woman, is a system, problemsare similar. that is, a dynamic structureof interacting, Viewed in this way one can see a host of interdependent parts.2' Perhaps that is less beneficialresults.We no longerare concerned appealing than a poet's definition a pretty of about whether whatwe are doingis geography girl,but it has meaning in that it relates the or not; we are concerned instead with what girl as a systemto all other systems, such as we contribute toward a larger goal, however a colonyof ants,or a city,or a businesscorpoinfinite may seem. As in othersciences, an it ration. overridingproblem of infiniteextent should Systemsanalysisprovidesmethodsof probbe a challenge, not cause for resignationor lem solvingwhich mightbe said to have been despair. We no longer debate about whether if created for geography, there were not also geographycan construct "laws." At the same manyotheruses forthem. Geographyis contime we do retain an identityby structuring cerned with systems. Indeed, we may now our minds to handle spatial distribution patstateits overriding problem. It is nothingless terns in all their complexity. But as we go than an understanding the vast, interacting of about our task of analyzing spatial distribuall and itsnatural system comprising humanity tions and space relations on the earth we environment the surfaceof the earth. This on should keep in mind the question, "What, if might be compared with Humboldt's stateanything, do geographic observations and mentof a century ago, "Even thoughthe comanalyses tell us about systemsgenerally,and plete goal is unobtainable, . . . the striving the man-environment systemparticularly?" of toward a comprehension world phenomena remains the highest and eternal purpose of 23Hartshorne,Perspective the Nature of Geogon It all research."22 may also be comparedwith raphy, 172. p. 24 Barrows, cit.,p. 3. op. of Hartshorne's definition the purposeof geog25 The closest approach this thegeography the to in of raphy as "the study that seeks to provide '30's and'40'swas in Robert Platt's S. viewofgeography scientific of description the earthas the world "as thescienceofregional processpatterns dynamic of

436
SUMMARY STATEMENT

EDWARD
OF CONCEPT AND METHOD

A. ACKERMAN

December

a view if theyhave aspirationsto the frontier of research. Not onlydo much sharperprobes We might elaborate this position in sum- existforexamining but man's activities, society marymanner: (1) The basic organizingcon- itselfis respondingto scientific change. It is cept of geography has three dimensions. being organized in ways that are more easily They are: extent,density,and succession.27 revolutionwe have evaluated. The scientific and space relations"are "Spatial distribution been going throughis being accompanied by a verbal shorthandfor describingthe dimensions of the concept. A theoretical frame- a revolutionof rationalismin our economic Indeed, it has been called a "second work for investigationmay be developed structure. Industrial Revolution,"with effects already fromthis basic concept, as observationsconfirmhypotheses.28(2) The universe treated very profoundfor all humankind. Industrial years ago removedthe individual by geographers is the worldwide man- engineering natural environment system. Geographers decisionmakingof the artisan. "Cybernation," share their overriding problem, an under- or systemsdesign and systemsengineering,29 standing of this system,with other sciences. are now rapidly moving individualityfrom (3) The worldwide system is composed of "middle management"decision. This. deve]a number of subsystems. The subsystems opmentis part of the social problem of autoa assist in identifying hierarchyof problems mation. Not least, systemsdesign and engifor research. (4) The techniques of systems neering, the through nation'sdefenseprogram, value to geographers is havinga dominant analysisare of particular role in domesticpolitical in applyingtheirorganizing(space) concept affairsand international relations. Research of to the analysisof subsystems the worldwide approaches have even been made toward man-environment system. These techniques, understanding the process of human thought because of their rigor,permitreplicationsof itself. Herbert Simon has said, "We shall be analysis and comparabilityof results among able to specifyexactlywhat it is that a man different research investigations. They also has to learn about a particularsubject- . state the results of geographic research in how he has to proceed-in order to solve termscomparable to those of other sciences problems that relate to that submake effectively techniques,and therefore using systems ject."30And,as you know,alreadya greatdeal potentialuse in treating such resultsof greater some aspects of is knownabout manipulating problem,or any subproblem. the overriding like consumerdemands,in a more or society, fashion.What we in the United less controlled SYSTEMS METHODS ARE CHANGING SOCIETY States are experiencingis also going on in Events in the world of today make it absoform lutely essential that geographersadopt such Europe and in Japan. Quite a different is found in the Soviet Union, but it still is 27 an Extentis measurableas size, shape, and orienta- certainly aspect of rationalization.We may tion. Densityis shownby the amountof "between- expect similardevelopments otherparts of in is ness." Simultaneity a specialcase ofsuccession. the world. And we may expect systemsengi28 Cf. Blaut (op. cit., pp. 5-6), who interprets large role in pp. (op. Hartshorne cit., 74-80, 133,144-45) and states neeringto play an increasingly I conceptas "arealintegration." do not coping with the social and economic crises theorganizing withthe statement that technologicalchange has brought.3' inconsistent findBlaut'sstatement but paragraph, his does leave the epistegivenin this mologicalproblemof what space is. (Discussed by 29 The Silent See Donald N. Michael,Cybernation: GeograProfessional Blautin his "Space and Process," of account thesocialchanges for Conquest, a summary the 1961], pp.1-6.) In addition, Vol. XIII [July, pher, Simon,op. cit., also engineering. technique caused by systems of has word"integration" a connotation study them. describes clarity. from that(to me) detracts 30 Simon, p. op. cit., 34. of I By extension also do notfindthestatements this 31 E. A. Johnson one problem, hasstated aspectofthis latestcareful with inconsistent Hartshorne's paragraph analysisof geographicconcept and method (Hart- from a national point of view: ". . . the increase in ... has knowledge madethefuture uncertain, op. cit.). It may be noted that Hartshorne, physical shorne, ahead in a waythatwill planmuchfurther the has in precise hisdefinitions, described com- ... we must always this be in whether flexibility, thatallows providemuch greater studyin a manner of ponents geographic it whether be forthe indiaffairs, here,and peacefulor military suggested themto fittheviewof geography problem is to vidual or forthe country. . .. our primary viewsalso. other probably

1963

WHERE IS A RESEARCH FRONTIER?

437

These eventsand trendshave the profoundest significance the futurespatial distribufor tion of human activities,and we could not hope to anticipateor understand thatdistribution without being fully abreast of what is takingplace. On the other hand, there must be something that the study of spatial distributions can tell us about these phenomena. To say this in brief,the methods that have created importantsalients on the frontier of the physical sciences are changing society itself,both directlyand throughtheirimpact on the behavioralsciences.

connectivity the system is significantto in science as a whole. Areal differencesare as significant onlyinsofar theyhelp to describe or and define the connectivity "information" flow. We now see that the geographerswho have been concernedwith culturaland other processes have had an insightof significant direction in research. Eight such processes were suggestedin the past-four physicaland four cultural. Among the cultural you may rememberdemographicmovement,organizational evolution, the resource-converting techniques, and the space-adjusting techniques. Among the physical, dynamics of the soil SYSTEMS AND GEOGRAPHY S FRONTIERS movement water,climate,and biotic of mantle, processeswere suggested.32 We are, then,concernednot onlywitha vast A second important characteristic a sysof interacting system, but with one that is being withinit. altered by knowledge of systems. We now tem is the existenceof subsystems come to the most difficult part of our deter- The pretty girl, if you like, can be broken mination.Recognitionof the overriding prob- down into an astonishingnumber of subsyslem is of little significanceunless we relate tems, like any complex being. The same is it to the directionof everydayresearch,and, trueof othercomplexsystems.This is another and criticalpoint,forwe mustmake to by extension, the fieldswithwhich we seek important for study commongroundin the definition problems. the proper selection of subsystems of What does thistell us about our own frontiers? ifwe are to maintainsignificance.We already made about The one thing that most distinguishesa have a clue in thepast suggestions systemis the flow of information within it. the importanceof processes. It is the functhatare generally signifthe is "Information" not to be confusedwith the tionalsubsystems ordinarymeaning of the word, for it refers icant ones. Thus the systematicaspects of insofaras theytreatfunctions, are here to any mechanism thatholds together the geography, interdependent, interacting parts of a system. disposed to a highlevel of significance.Those This is an interestingand critical point as geographerswho have thought in terms of far as geographyis concerned, because the areal functionalorganizationagain have had insightas to researchdirection. withina system its mostimpor- a significant is connectivity However,not all typesof regionhave equal tant characteristic. on Many geographers, the for other hand, have stressed differences,as significance research. Politicalregionsare units with a high level of signifiin exemplified the term"areal differentiation."territorial If you accept my proposal of the overriding cance because they are functional. A waterdetermined problem for our science, it then follows that shed is an example of a physically to choose a research problem withoutrefer- regionthat is significant.On the otherhand, of ence to the connectivity the systemis to the old concept of a "geographic"regionmay What space relationstell us of have very little significance. We may need risk triviality. to review criticallythe significanceof other in types of regions within the context we are affairs finda way to manageour verybig systems this new situation. . . We will have to examine our considering.The conceptof a regionis potenvaluesto see whatit is and national group, individual, study, but we should and to see tiallyvaluable in systems world, changing we wantto do in a rapidly in to whatwe can do consciously manipulate ourfavor take care that the regional concepts we actuenviron- ally use are significantto the overriding and physical world hostile therealandperhaps mentso thatit will serveus better.This is a problem "The Use ofOperations system. E. ofbigsystems." A. Johnson,
.

Research in the Study of Very Large Systems," 32 Ackerman, Geography a Fundamental as Systems:Researchand Design (Donald P. Eckman, Research Discipline(Chicago: 1958), p. 28. ed.), pp. 52-93.

438
SELECTION OF SIGNIFICANT SCIENCES

EDWARD

A. ACKERMAN

December

COLLABORATING

This bringsus throughthe second level in the hierarchyof problems, down to a level where one must seek specific examples of have long appresignificance.As geographers within the ciated, the flow of "information" man-natural environmentsystem is indeed vast. Selection of a researchproblem at raneven thoughit may dom again riskstriviality, be entirely"geographic" in conception. At this point one commencesto be most actively concernedabout clues fromothersciences as workingproblems. to significant Here we may go back to one of the first observationsmade in this discussion: The sciences differenormouslyin their rates of progress. For example,not all divisionsof the behavioral sciences or the earthsciences offer Withchannelsforproductivecommunication. out doubt we can benefitgreatlyfromsome of collaborative definition research problems with othersciences,but the cooperationmust be selectivelychosen. A good rule of thumb analysistechniques would be: Where systems at are understoodand incorporated the working face of the discipline,a collaborativedefibe nition of problem may profitably sought. In other words, cooperation is likely to be rewarding where methods made familiar in the physical sciences are now reaching into the neighboringearth sciences and the behavioral sciences. Where the concepts and analysismethodsare approachesusingsystems is makinginroads,a possible place of interest suggestedforgeography.Relationswithother sciences which at times have been loose, vague, and hard to define may thus become more meaningful. is The profession becoming equipped gradually to take such a view in its fundamental research. The wind of change which we have feltforthe last decade includesthe application analysis. Thus far of some methodsof systems they generallyhave been the application of more rigorous techniques to old geographic RELATIONS WITH THE BEHAVIORAL SCIENCES witheconproblems. Except forcollaboration omists and others of the "regional science" These eventssuggestthatwe need to maingroup, and the older collaboration between tain a comprehensive in view of the frontiers culturalgeographersand culturalanthropologists,we thus far have done relativelylittle 33Geoffrey Robinson, Consideration theRela"A of to explorecommongroundwithothersciences tionsof Geomorphology Geography," Profesand The of problems. In sionalGeographer, XV (1963), pp. 13-17. on the definition significant Vol.

almost any direction we turn, interesting possibilities appear. Indeed, there are so many opportunities that the number of people undertakinggeographic research seems remarkably few. The relation of geographyand the neighboring natural sciences is particularlyinternatural sciences I esting. By the neighboring mean studiesthatfocuson the surfacefeatures of the earth, like soils, biotic features,and water movement.The logical point of contact of these sciences with the human part of the great man-land systemis geography. In all of themthereis increasingappreciationof the role of man. For example, it is realized that pollutionhas become a majorfeaturein world hydrology;biological ecologists now admit thateven themost"inviolate" naturalpreserves will be affectedby man, no matterwhat protectionis given; and a few geomorphologists now recognize the significanceof man as a part of geomorphicprocesses. We should be alertto overtures particularly from theseneighboringsciences,like thatof Geoffrey Robinson in geomorphology, who suggeststhat at least some geomorphologists are interested in a collaborative definitionof problems.33 We should continue to capitalize on a point of view that geographyalone, untilrecently, has maintained amongthe sciencesconcernedwith man: land is half of the man-land system. There are signsthatgeography's positionas a "gateway"between the behavioral sciences and the earth sciences is being challenged somewhat by the behavioral sciences themselves. Economists,for example, in the last ten yearshave become increasingly concerned with natural resource developmentproblems. To be sure, geographershelped to startthem along these lines, but there is now a direct working relation between economics and hydrology. It is significant that the aspects of economicsemphasizinga systems approach provided the importantrecent contributions to studyof resources.

1963

WHERE IS A RESEARCH FRONTIER?

439

the behavioral sciences, and that we have a useful approaches to the study of systems good clue to common interestin looking for generally.37 those investigatorswho pursue a systems Geographers recently have been alert to flow studies. For approach. It has been said, "The behavioral noneconomic"information" sciences are diverse in subject matter and example, a much respected patternfor geomethods state of development, yet ideas and concepts graphicalresearchwithmathematical studiesby of circulatequite freely among them...."34 The has been the diffusion innovation in quotationmay be a slightoverstatement, but TorstenHuIgerstrand Sweden.38These studhave it does represent agreed-uponideal in these ies,well knownto Americangeographers, an researchin this country. sciences which we might well contemplate. stimulateddiffusion of How far do we join them in the shaping of Such research is also a natural outgrowth Americaninterest diffusion in long-continued goals and in the exchange of methodswhich phenomena,followedparticularly cultural by we have commencedto use? geographers.39 An illustration two may directour attenor At the same time the interestin diffusion tion to possibilities. We have mentionedthat studiesillustrates past relationswithother our a most important characteristic a systemis of scientific subjects. Americansociologists have the flow of "information," broadly defined. been carrying on very similar work since "Information" may be in the formof goods, the early 1940's, including some elaborately people, messages containingdata or ideas, or designed experiments.40 far as I can disAs other dynamic phenomena. The geographer, cover there was little cross-disciplinary comby definition, looks at what spatial distribu- municationon thisremarkably similarpath of tions tell concerning this information flow,or researchuntilabout a year and a half ago. It vice versa. Geographers alreadyhave attacked is obvious that collaboration here between gesome of these problems of information flow ographyand sociologycan be of value. This is successfully.35 Probably the most important of more than academic interest, as Ullman for generalquestion of thiskind familiar geog- has noted, "the relative 'stickiness' society, to of raphers is: "What can we say about how the resistance of certain areas to spread of has strong people distribute themselvesand theirculture innovations and improvements," on the earth,givenfreechoice?" Much of the implicationsfor public policy both nationally workgeographers have done thusfaris within and internationally.41 Allow me another and more unusual the contextof economic constraints, they but offshoot the behavin also respondto theirconceptsof amenities, to example. An interesting neighborhoodand other group attachments, ioral sciences at the presenttime is the study theory, which KennethBoulding to of to the diffusion information, and perhaps of conflict to otherfactors. There is a wealth of signifi37 Beer,op. cit.,p. 19. "The brainis itself the most cant problemshere to examine. Attention to resplendent system themall...." of maywell rethem can bring us into a common area with flectto whatdegreesocial reality We thestructure reflects studentsof motivationin the behavioral sci- ofthebrain. 38 Torsten HWgerstrand, Propagation Innova"The of ences. This is a key area in behavioralscience tion Waves," Lund Studies in Geography(Sweden: research. We may findeventuallysome inter- Lund, 1952) and succeeding publications. thus estingcommonground with psychology, 39 See, for example, Fred Kniffen, "The American of Geographic withthe inferences M. G. CoveredBridge," Review(1951), p. 114. finally connecting 40 See, for example, JamesS. Coleman,"The DifKendall twenty-five yearsago.36 Indeed, study fusion an Innovation of among Physicians," Sociometry, of the most Vol. 20 (1957); Melvin of the brain is considered one DeFleurand OttoLarsen, Flow
of Information (New York: Harper,1958); Anatol Rapoport, "Spread of Information through Populaa the Strengthening Behavioral tionwitha Social Structure Bias," Bulletin Matheof AdvisoryCommittee, matical Biophysics, Vol. 15 (1953). April20, 1962), p. 13. Sciences(Washington: 35 A number 41 EdwardL. Ullman, on of reports such researchhave apin "Geography Theory UnderAreas," Essayson Geography Economic by and peared in the Annals;e.g., articles W. L. Garrison developed science"group Development (NortonS. Ginsburg, of ed.), University of Publications the"regional andothers. Chicago,Department Geography of Research Paper62 also are illustrative. 36 (Chicago: 1960), pp. 26-32. 14 See footnote above. Science President's 34Behavioral SciencesSubpanel,

440

EDWARD

A. ACKERMAN

December

of of the University Michigan and othershave the contributed.Looked at from pointof view flow,conflict and theirinformation of systems a is theory essentially searchfor"redundancy," or the capacity to handle in channels multiple movementswith the same destination. Boulding has suggested that the theorymay in be of interest studyingland use.42 Here is to an opportunity help in exploringthe overa through freshidea. ridingsystem withthebehavioralsciences A commonfront is importantnot only in framingsignificant research questions but also because of geography'slong associationwith historicalstudy. would it Increasingly, looks as thoughhistory the meaningthrough dimenacquire scientific sions givenit by behavioralscience.
CONCLUSION

We emerge with four general points that could help to place our science on a research quantifrontier.(1) Continue to strengthen to methods. Attempt add to themrigorfying ous analytical approaches in our theoryand hypotheses. (2) Rechabits of constructing system man-environment ognize an earth-wide as our overriding problem.We can seek significant research questions in the study of sublevels, amenable to our systemsat different analyses. (3) Choose our spatial distribution in researchproblems thelightof the advancing of frontier the behavioral sciences, and with study in the attention to systems-oriented earth sciences. Finally, (4) supneighboring to lement our present heavy commitments studies within economic constraintsand to studiesby otherapproaches. The morphology is in risinginterest culturalgeography healthy,
42 KennethBoulding,Conflict and Defense (New York: Harper,1962), p. 1.

still but we could diversify more.I particularly politicalgeography commendto yourattention framework. is concerned It withinthe systems signifiwith regionsthat have true functional cance in the great man-land system. Seeking and stayingon a researchfrontier is a most exactingtask. It is now very clear that, in this age of specialization, special knowledge and specialized concepts are not sufficient hold a science on the frontier. to problem is essential, The sense of overriding and so is a view of at least a part of the spectrumof all science. This does not mean that future accomplishment will be entirely sophisticated. by thosewho are mathematically For thoseofus notso endowed it is comforting to rememberthat A. A. Michelson, the first Americanto win the Nobel Prize, was, by his own admission, poorly prepared in mathekeen matics. But he did have an extremely problem in his field, sense of the overriding a passion forexactness, and an alertness the to of disciplines.There contributions neighboring is an importantplace for a comprehensive view, but it must be a view based on somethingmore than undergraduateand graduate courses. I believe the time is near when postand a second doctoraldegree graduatetraining may be the price forreachinga researchfronaction tier. In ourplans forfuture professional and in our advice to thosein professional trainbefore ing,we mustthinkabout these matters it is much later. If we do not,otherswill culfor tivate our frontier, that is the way of science. If we do, perhaps we may come closer Charles Darwin's words,". . . that to justifying grand subject, that almost keystone of the laws of creation, GeographicalDistribution."43
to 43CharlesDarwin,letter JosephDalton Hooker, 1845.