Phrenology as a science was doomed owing to the simple fact that bumps on the head can’t be reliably linked to any ‘faculties’, but it did prompt scientists of the mind to start thinking that brain areas might be related to specific functions.
The opposing school of thought was that the brain was homogeneous, and that there was no specialisation of function for particular areas. This theory was most fully formed by Karl Lashley’s idea of mass action which was published in 1950.
Now we know that certain brain areas are specialised for certain functions, but the debate focuses on to what extent areas are specialised, how many specialisations there are, and as part of what network.
Unfortunately, many media stories love the “x is the brain area for y” angle, which is a vast oversimplification and ignores the wonderful complexity of our most mysterious of organs.
UPDATE: Thanks to Neuroanthropology and Neurophilosophy who mailed to say I’d got my knickers in a twist. The link is to a Neuroanthropology post (now fixed), although apparently Neurophilosophy wrote about the same thing last year. Normal service will be resumed shortly – presumably after my brain kicks back into gear.