background: Manfred Max-Neef is a Chilean economist who has worked for many years with the problem of development in the Third World, articulating the inappropriateness of conventional models of development, that have lead to increasing poverty, massive debt and ecological disaster for many Third World communities. He works for the Centre for Development Alternatives in Chile, an organisation dedicated to the reorientation of development which stimulates local needs. It researches new tools, strategies and evaluative techniques to support such development, and Max-Neef’s publication Human Scale Development: an Option for the Future (1987) outlines the results of the Centre’s researches and experiences
Max-Neef and his colleagues have developed a taxonomy of human needs and a process by which communities can identify their “wealths” and “poverties” according to how these needs are satisfied.
Human Scale Development is defined as “focused and based on the satisfaction of fundamental human needs, on the generation of growing levels of self-reliance, and on the construction of organic articulations of people with nature and technology, of global processes with local activity, of the personal with the social, of planning with autonomy, and of civil society with the state.” (Max-Neef et al, 1987:12)
The main contribution that Max-Neef makes to the understanding of needs is the distinction made between needs and satisfiers. Human needs are seen as few, finite and classifiable (as distinct from the conventional notion that “wants” are infinite and insatiable). Not only this, they are constant through all human cultures and across historical time periods. What changes over time and between cultures is the way these needs are satisfied. It is important that human needs are understood as a system – i.e. they are interrelated and interactive. There is no hierarchy of needs (apart from the basic need for subsistence or survival) as postulated by Western psychologists such as Maslow, rather, simultaneity, complementarity and trade-offs are features of the process of needs satisfaction.
Max-Neef classifies the fundamental human needs as: subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, recreation(in the sense of leisure, time to reflect, or idleness), creation, identity and freedom. Needs are also defined according to the existential categories of being, having, doing and interacting, and from these dimensions, a 36 cell matrix is developed which can be filled with examples of satisfiers for those needs. (full text).