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Social Work Human Needs
by
Michael A. Dover

Introduction

As a profession, social work has long been concerned with understanding and meeting human needs. The preamble of the Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers (see National Association of Social Workers 1999 in General Overviews) states: “The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty.” Nevertheless there is a scarcity of literature coming from within the profession of social work that addresses human needs explicitly. However, a growing body of human needs–related literature from other disciplines and professions contributes to the liberal arts foundation of social work. Accordingly this bibliography will explore the history and evolution of the body of human needs theory and research on which social work has drawn historically. In doing so it first draws upon the early history of the use of needs concepts during two key periods of social work history (the Progressive Era and the first fifteen years following World War II) as well as the rise of the early psychological theories of needs that have influenced social work in the decades since. The entry then focuses on the variety of theoretical approaches to human needs that have influenced social work, including Marxian, neo-Marxian, and feminist approaches and recent contributions from economics, philosophy, nursing, and religious thought. The entry then focuses on sections that briefly discuss and annotate contributions to practice, policy, and research that draw upon human needs concepts. The entry ends by clarifying the relationship of human needs concepts to other key concepts for social work, including human rights, social justice, cultural diversity, and oppression. As will be apparent, a number of key debates have arisen regarding needs, including whether they are universal or specific to particular cultures, whether human needs or human rights are more central for social work, and whether social work should focus on people's needs or their capabilities.

General Overviews

There has long been an unresolved theoretical tension in social work between meeting the human needs of people and communities as social workers may conceive those needs and empowering people to draw upon their own capabilities in order to meet their needs as they define them. In addition the very concept of human needs has long been ideologically suspect within American political discourse due to the legacy of anticommunism. One consequence has been a long-standing neglect of human needs concepts within the profession's knowledge, values, and skills. For instance, the Encyclopedia of Social Work did not contain an entry on human needs until the 20th edition (Dover and Joseph 2008). Also not until the current version did the Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers utilize the concept of human needs (National Association of Social Workers 1999). The inclusion of ethics content on human needs was proposed by a committee chaired by Frederic G. Reamer, who contended elsewhere that human needs concepts reinforced social work's long-standing practice commitment to meeting basic needs (Reamer 1998). One reason for this neglect has been the lack of consensus about the nature of human needs within social work. For some, human needs have been viewed as normative and subjective rather than being universal and objective (Ife 2002), with human rights–based discourse often counterpoised to a needs-based approach (Ife 2001). For others, human needs are universal, and universal human rights and human needs concepts are compatible (Gil 1992). David Gil has pointed out that the essence of social justice is the existence of natural and social-cultural environments that enable people to meet their intrinsic needs. This requires a clarification of the nature of human needs (Gil 2004).

  • Dover, Michael A., and Barbara Hunter Randall Joseph. 2008. Human needs: Overview. In Encyclopedia of social work, 20th ed. Edited by Terry Mizrahi and Larry E. Davis, 398–406. New York: Oxford Univ. Press and National Association of Social Workers.

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    The authors provide an overview of needs concepts in social work. They cover theories of human needs that have been used in social work education, practice, and research and in social welfare policy. They discuss the relevance of human needs for social work values and ethics and for social and political action.

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  • Gil, David. 1992. Foreword. In Human rights and social policy in the 21st century. By Joseph Wronka. New York: Univ. Press of America.

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    Explains that universal human needs are products of biology but also of affect and are affected by cultural and social evolution, ensuring change over time in their nature. Human rights have evolved in response to needs. Human rights are socially constructed and vary among human groups.

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  • Gil, David G. 2004. Perspectives on social justice. Reflections: Narratives of Professional Helping 10 (Fall): 32–39.

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    Presents a summary of Gil's views on human needs theory and argues that conceptions of social justice must contain a theorization of human need.

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  • Ife, Jim. 2001. Human rights and human needs. In Human rights and social work: Towards rights-based practice. By Jim Ife, 76–88. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Argues that social work needs to progress beyond needs-based approaches and instead adopt rights-based outlooks, although the author sees value in a discourse on the relationship of needs to rights.

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  • Ife, Jim. 2002. Community development: Community-based alternatives in an age of globalization. 2d ed. Frenchs Forest, Australia: Pearson Education Australia.

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    Needs are not objective and universal but rather a product of normative and technical needs statements, such as population-defined needs, consumer-defined needs, caretaker-defined needs, and inferred needs (needs as deduced by researchers or other observers).

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  • National Association of Social Workers. 1999. Code of ethics of the National Association of Social Workers. Washington, DC: National Association of Social Workers.

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    The primary mission of social work as a profession is to “enhance human well-being” and also to “help meet the basic human needs of all people.”

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  • Reamer, Frederic G. 1998. The evolution of social work ethics. Social Work 43.6: 488–500.

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    Identifies common human needs as a well-established concept that reinforces social work's historical commitments to meeting basic needs and enhancing well-being.

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Historical Background

Early on in the evolution of social work as a profession, the use of needs concepts was inescapable, given the enormity of unmet basic needs at the time. Unmet individual and family needs resulted in the recognition of social needs that required urgent responses from the charitable and public sectors. However, debates about human needs were not explicitly theorized, other than as part of larger debates about the relative importance to be placed upon meeting material needs and psychological needs. Then as now there was confusion between service needs (what services do we offer that people need) and human needs (what needs do people and communities have for which services and benefits, and what other forms of social intervention should be developed). Midway through the century early psychological theories of human need evolved and provided an incipient basis for the introduction of needs concepts into social work. At the same time articles 23 and 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, promulgated by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, stressed rights for just remuneration for work and for social protections that together ensure human dignity and provide an adequate standard of living. As a result of this social scientific and political recognition of the centrality of basic needs, explicit concepts of human needs were at first taken for granted as central for modern social work practice and education. However, by the late 1950s early psychological theories were seen as not sufficiently developed to serve as the basis for modern social work, which turned instead to ecological systems theory.

Early History

As Bremner 1956 points out, the concept of human needs tends to be periodically rediscovered, as the ambivalent history of social work's usage suggests. The early history of the use of the concept of human needs in social work was traced by the dissertation of Barbara Hunter Randall Joseph (Joseph 1986). Needs concepts were explicit in the work of early British social welfare figures, such as Booth 1902. In the United States, Edward Thomas Devine focused mainly on service needs but also introduced what has been a long-standing debate about the extent to which needs can be met within the present socioeconomic system (Devine 1909). Mary Ellen Richmond's approach to casework clearly distinguished between economic needs and expressed needs of clients (Richmond 1922). Bertha Capen Reynolds supported the growing focus on client self-determination but worried that it could result in social work or societal neglect of basic human needs (Reynolds 1973). The first human behavior in the social environment textbook was appropriately titled Common Human Needs (Towle 1965). Today's literature on human needs continues to reflect these early distinctions between service needs and human needs and between objective and subjective need as well as this early concern that empowerment strategies not be accompanied by a lack of societal resources for basic needs satisfaction.

  • Booth, Charles. 1902. Life and labour of the people in London. London: Macmillan.

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    This work of early British social work strongly influenced needs concepts, especially the basic requirements for human nutrition.

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  • Bremner, Robert Hamlett. 1956. From the depths: The discovery of poverty in the United States. New York: New York Univ. Press.

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    Points out that human needs as a concept was pioneered by social work but that each age discovers or thinks it has discovered needs anew.

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  • Devine, Edward Thomas. 1909. Misery and its causes. New York: Macmillan.

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    Stresses the concept of service needs, not human needs, but also stresses that some needs could be met within the present economic system without revolutionary changes.

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  • Joseph, Barbara Hunter Randall. 1986. The discovery of need, 1880–1914: A case study of the development of an idea in social welfare thought. Ph.D. diss., Columbia University School of Social Work.

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    Concludes that no unified concept of needs was defined in early social work. References to needs ranged from needy to neediness to needful to in need.

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  • Reynolds, Bertha Capen. 1973. Between client and community: A study of responsibility in social case work. New York: Oriole.

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    First published in 1934. Reynolds was concerned that relationship-centered approaches centered on client wants rather than needs raised the possibility of a loss of focus on responsibility for the outcome of work with clients.

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  • Richmond, Mary Ellen. 1922. What is social case work? An introductory description. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

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    Richmond saw people as interdependent rather than dependent beings. She placed greater emphasis on growth in personality than was the case with her earlier emphasis on the details of social diagnosis in relation to economic and social needs.

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  • Towle, Charlotte. 1965. Common human needs. Rev. ed. New York: National Association of Social Workers.

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    First published in 1945. Identifies human needs, such as an impulse to survive and a need to feel secure. Towle goes on to detail the nature of human needs in relationship to various developmental stages.

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Psychological Theories Influencing Social Work History

By the mid-1940s the field of psychology had produced two conceptualizations of human motivations and needs (Murray, et al. 1938; Maslow 1943). Abraham H. Maslow's theory was based upon a hierarchy of need and was influenced by the earlier work of Henry Alexander Murray. Maslow later added self-transcendence to his hierarchy of needs (Koltko-Rivera 2006; Maslow 1971). Simultaneously Kurt Lewin's field theory was being developed (Lewin 1947a, Lewin 1947b). Its theoretical framework was consistent with social work's historical emphasis on the relationship of the individual and the social environment. However, Maslow warned at the time that field theory was no replacement for needs theory (Maslow 1943). Hearn 1958 used field theory to develop general systems theory, later the foundation of the ecosystems perspective. During this era The Sane Society (Fromm 1955) provided an additional and influential outlook on human needs.

  • Fromm, Erich. 1955. The sane society. New York: Rinehart.

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    Argues that human needs involve an idealistic striving for needs that transcends physiological needs, including relatedness, transcendence, rootedness, identity, and a frame of orientation and devotion.

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  • Hearn, Gordon. 1958. Theory building in social work. Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press.

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    Hearn's theory-building expertise was used during the late 1950s to provide an alternative to human needs theory as the conceptual foundation for modern social work. Hearn relied on Kurt Lewin's field theory (Lewin 1947a, Lewin 1947b) to develop general systems theory, one theoretical foundation for social work's ecosystems perspective.

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  • Koltko-Rivera, Mark E. 2006. Rediscovering the later version of Maslow's hierarchy of needs: Self-transcendence and opportunities for theory, research, and unification. Review of General Psychology 10.4: 302–317.

    DOI: 10.1037/1089-2680.10.4.302Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discusses the widely ignored identification by Abraham H. Maslow of self-transcendence as a step above self-actualization in his hierarchy of need (see Maslow 1971).

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  • Lewin, Kurt. 1947a. Frontiers in group dynamics: Concept, method, and reality in social science; Social equilibria and social change. Human Relations 1.1: 5–41.

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    Lewin recognizes the dynamic relationship of individuals to their social environment. He stresses the structural properties of the parts of a dynamic social field rather than the structural properties of the individuals who are subparts of the field. He deemphasizes sociological theories of social structure and psychological theories of human needs.

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  • Lewin, Kurt. 1947b. Frontiers in group dynamics II: Channels of group life; Social planning and action research. Human Relations 1.2: 143–153.

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    Lewin theorizes that resources flow to social fields through channels that have gates and gatekeepers. Both objective and subjective processes impact on social problems, but Lewin stresses the relationship between scientific and moral aspects of social problems and stresses the role of power.

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  • Maslow, Abraham H. 1943. A theory of human motivation. Psychosocial Review 50.4: 370–396.

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    Maslow stressed that while human needs are universal, there are culturally different preferences. He warns that field theory should not be a substitute for needs theory.

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  • Maslow, Abraham H. 1971. The farther reaches of human nature. New York: Viking.

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    According to Koltko-Rivera 2006, Maslow here amended his hierarchy of needs to include self-transcendence.

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  • Murray, Henry Alexander, William G. Barrett and Erik Homburger. 1938. Explorations in personality: A clinical and experimental study of fifty men of college age. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Distinguishes latent and manifest needs and conceptualizes several needs, including achievement, affiliation, and power. Murray's needs-press model and other work influenced Maslow.

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Post–World War II Social Work Discussion

In postwar Britain human needs concepts remained an important foundation for both social work and social welfare (Graham 1951). In the United States, as of the early 1950s, human needs content was seen as essential for social work education (Boehm 1956, Boehm 1958, Stroup 1953). Bisno 1952 recognized early on what has been a persistent human needs theory dilemma, namely, how much stress to place on common human needs and human similarities rather than on human individual and cultural differences. Functionalist theories of social welfare envisioned a social welfare system based upon an integrative view of human needs (Wilensky and Lebeaux 1958). However, by the late 1950s, although he recognized that an integrative view of needs was important for social work, Alfred J. Kahn concluded that, given the relatively undeveloped state of human needs theory, there was little choice but to define human needs within specific societal contexts (Kahn 1957). However, he admitted that there was still potential for later human needs theory development relevant to social work (Kahn 1959).

  • Bisno, Herbert. 1952. The philosophy of social work. Washington, DC: Public Affairs.

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    Social science has alternatively stressed either human similarities or human differences. Social work should recognize both shared common needs and unique individual needs and desires.

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  • Boehm, Werner. 1956. The plan for the social work curriculum study. New York: Council on Social Work Education.

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    Argues that human needs content should be an important aspect of social work education.

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  • Boehm, Werner. 1958. The nature of social work. Social Work 3.2: 10–18.

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    Points out that social work was recognized as a profession because it both meets human needs and carries out a social control function.

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  • Graham, Michael. 1951. Human needs. London: Cresset.

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    Proposes that levels of human needs satisfaction, if adequately theorized, could provide an alternative to the means test for judging the utility of social policies and social services.

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  • Kahn, Alfred J. 1957. Sociology and social work: Challenge and invitation. Social problems 4.3: 220–228.

    DOI: 10.1525/sp.1957.4.3.03a00040Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Says that social work research on human needs was basic to social policy. But Kahn felt that conceptual problems with the concept of needs remained. He saw human needs as defined and satisfied within specific social-economic-political-cultural situations.

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  • Kahn, Alfred J. 1959. The function of social work in the modern world. In Issues in American social work. Edited by Alfred J. Kahn. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    Argues that an integrative view of needs should be applied to social work (see Wilensky and Lebeaux 1958), although he saw needs theory per se as too undeveloped. Social work might later consider how universal biological drives are converted into motives and eventually into needs.

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  • Stroup, Herbert. 1953. The field of social work. Sociology and Social Research 37.6: 395–398.

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    Of seven basic areas for introductory courses in social work, one should be the nature of human needs.

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  • Wilensky, Harold L., and Charles Nathan Lebeaux. 1958. Industrial society and social welfare: The impact of industrialization on the supply and organization of social welfare services in the United States. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

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    Argues that functional generalization tied to an integrative view of human needs is required for an advanced system of social welfare, although it is not a necessary condition for defining the boundaries of the existing social welfare system.

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Theories And Approaches

The nature of human needs has been a subject of philosophical, theological, and scientific speculation since at least the early Greeks. In recent decades debates have arisen in a number of arenas about the utility of needs concepts. Recent advances in human need theory, however, have arisen primarily due to advances in the field of philosophy, in which there is growing acceptance of the centrality of universal needs concepts for moral and political philosophy. These have also included a number of important debates arising from Marxian, neo-Marxian, and feminist approaches specifically as well as capability theory and other political economic theories. Most recently two formal theories of human needs and psychological needs have been promulgated, respectively, the Doyal-Gough theory of human needs (Doyal and Gough 1991) and self-determination theory (Deci and Ryan 2000). Both seek to move beyond the perceived theoretical limitations of the work of Maslow 1943. These and other theories of human needs have been widely used in other helping professions, including most notably nursing.

  • Deci, Edward L., and Richard M. Ryan. 2000. The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry 11.4: 227–268.

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    Explains self-determination theory and its contention that there are universal psychological needs, including competence, autonomy, and relatedness.

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  • Doyal, Len, and Ian Gough. 1991. A theory of human need. New York: Guilford.

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    Theorizes two primary basic needs (health and autonomy) that must be met to avoid serious harm and to engage in social participation. Civil, political, and women's rights are prerequisites for culturally specific ways of satisfying intermediate needs, including food, water, housing, a nonhazardous environment, health, childhood security, significant primary relationships, economic security, and basic education.

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  • Maslow, Abraham H. 1943. A theory of human motivation. Psychological RevieAbraham H. 1943. A theory of human motivation. Psychological Revieww 50.4: 370–396.

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    Maslow presents his hierarchical theory of human needs (including physiological needs, safety needs, belonging/love, and self-actualization).

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Philosophical Discussions

There is growing mainstream philosophical consensus that the concept of needs is essential to moral and political philosophy. Braybrooke 1987 demonstrates that lists of needs were philosophically groundless and that theoretical progress required the application of solid philosophical methods to long-standing questions of moral philosophy concerning social policy. Building on Braybrooke 1987, Brock 1994 and Doyal 1998 utilize philosophical methods to debate developments in human needs theory. Thomson 2005 identifies fundamental needs satisfaction as a necessary condition for the avoidance of serious harm. Strongly criticizing John Rawls's theory of social justice for not having incorporated the notion of vital need (Rawls 1977), David Wiggins came down squarely on the side of the centrality of universal rather than relativist conceptions of human needs and stressed their importance for the philosophical understanding of social justice (Wiggins 1987, Wiggins 2005).

  • Braybrooke, David. 1987. Meeting needs. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    Critiques liberal and Marxist lists of needs as essentially endless and not philosophically rigorous. Proposed course-of-life needs that meet certain standards and criteria and that render a principle of preference, one that enhances our moral capacity to make useful social policy decisions.

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  • Brock, Gillian. 1994. Braybrooke on needs. Ethics 104.4: 811–823.

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    Critiques Braybrooke 1987 for its effort to append needs concepts to utilitarianism. Brock argues that David Braybrooke's acceptance of the subjectivity of needs made consensus about needs difficult. As a result some needs might be considered fraudulent, and others might be based upon paternalistic definitions of needs by some on behalf of others.

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  • Doyal, Len. 1998. A theory of human need. Necessary goods: Our responsibility to meet others' needs. Edited by Gillian Brock, 157–172. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

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    This chapter in a collection of philosophical discussions of human needs provided Doyal an opportunity to restate and reassert the objectivity and universality of needs, despite the strength of subjective feelings people have about individual needs and the reality of cultural differences in how needs are met.

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  • Rawls, John. 1977. The basic structure as subject. American Philosophical Quarterly 14 (April): 159–165.

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    In this restatement of his distributive theory of justice, Rawls states that justice does not require an equal division of social primary goods but it does require equal rights and liberties as well as equality of opportunity.

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  • Thomson, Garrett. 2005. Fundamental needs. In The philosophy of need. Edited by Soran Reader, 175–186. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Distinguishes instrumental needs from fundamental needs, which the author defines as uncircumstantial and unavoidable necessary conditions for avoidance of serious harm.

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  • Wiggins, David. 1987. Needs, values, truth: Essays in the philosophy of value. Oxford: Blackwell.

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    Distinguishes wants from needs and instrumental needs from absolute needs but shows that for both individuals and communities the avoidance of serious harm requires certain identifiable necessary conditions that are not circumstantial.

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  • Wiggins, David. 2005. An idea we cannot do without: What difference will it make (e.g., to moral, political, and environmental philosophy) to recognize and put to use a substantial conception of need? In The philosophy of need. Edited by Soran Reader, 25–50. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Criticizes conceptions of justice that do not incorporate concepts of need. Supports instead, in the context of a discussion of environmental sustainability, a precautionary principle that supports social policies that focus on meeting present human needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their human needs.

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Marxian, Neo-Marxian, and Feminist Approaches

Marxian and feminist theories have long influenced the progressive tradition in social work, in particular intense ideological and intellectual debates about the degree to which human needs are universal or relative, are consistent with Marxism or likely to reinforce social oppression, or are philosophically rigorous or value laden. The socialist feminist work Fraser 1989 prioritizes the discursive nature of needs identification. Although Fromm and Marx 1966 earlier introduced a Marxist humanist approach to human needs, Heller 1976 contends that Karl Marx viewed needs as relative to the relations of production and that under capitalism needs were transformed into wants. However, others contended that Marx made a clear distinction between wants and needs (Springborg 1981). Recent work has reinterpreted Marx's theory of needs (Hughes 2000) and has concluded that Marx identified the primacy of needs (Lebowitz 2003). Noonan 2004 criticizes rights-based theories of liberal democracy for giving primacy to property rights over demands for human needs satisfaction.

  • Fraser, Nancy. 1989. Struggle over needs: Outline of a socialist-feminist critical theory of late capitalist political culture. In Unruly practices: Power, discourse, and gender in contemporary social theory. Edited by Nancy Fraser. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press.

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    Uses a socialist-feminist analysis to identify unequal discursive power among groups engaged in struggles over needs. Distinguishes between thin (basic) needs and thick needs, which are service or policy needs often debated in relation to thin needs. She proposes stressing needs identification rather than needs satisfaction.

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  • Fromm, Erich, and Karl Marx. 1966. Marx's concept of man. New York: F. Ungar.

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    Stresses awareness of true human needs, as opposed to viewing needs as merely that which must be satisfied in order to survive and produce under conditions of alienation.

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  • Heller, Agnes. 1976. The theory of need in Marx. New York: St. Martin's.

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    Sees in Karl Marx a qualitative and relativist distinction between the essentially manufactured needs for commodities under capitalism and the system of radical needs that would emerge among cooperating individuals under communism.

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  • Hughes, Jonathan. 2000. Capitalism, socialism, and the satisfaction of needs. In Ecology and historical materialism. By Jonathan Hughes, 161–200. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    This historical materialist approach to social ecology criticizes Heller 1976 and reinterprets Karl Marx's view of human needs as being consistent with the philosophical priority given to avoidance of serious harm.

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  • Lebowitz, Michael A. 2003. The primacy of needs. In Beyond capital: Marx's political economy of the working class, 2d ed. By Michael A. Lebowitz, 161–167. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

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    Reinterprets Karl Marx's theory of history to identify the primacy of needs, with social change taking place when people recognize that the existing social structure no longer permits the satisfaction of the very needs generated at that point in history.

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  • Noonan, Jeff. 2004. Rights, needs, and the moral grounds of democratic society. Rethinking Marxism 16.3: 311–325.

    DOI: 10.1080/0893569042000239307Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that classical and contemporary liberal democratic theories assume that human rights and property rights are the foundation of political democracy. However, property rights may conflict with the abilities of social struggles to ensure that basic human needs are met. This requires a more advanced conceptualization of social democracy.

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  • Springborg, Patricia. 1981. Appendix: “Needs” as a concept. In The problem of human needs and the critique of civilization. By Patricia Springborg, 252–275. Boston: Allen and Unwin.

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    Critical of Abraham H. Maslow, Springborg stresses the distinction between wants and needs. She points out that Karl Marx's dissertation cited Cicero's typology of desires, including those that are natural and necessary, those that are natural but not necessary, and those that are neither.

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Capability Theory and Other Political Economic Theories

Political economic and capability theories have been strongly influenced by conceptions related to human needs. The institutional economics of Karl Polanyi and K. William Kapp provide an intellectual alternative to the assumptions of classical liberalism (Berger 2008a, Berger 2008b). McMurtry 1998 is a brief treatment of needs that influenced Democratic Society and Human Needs (Noonan 2006). Simultaneously major figures in philosophy (Nussbaum 2000) and economics (Sen 1985) integrated the concept of human capabilities into their work on international social development. Nevertheless some continued to argue that needs are ultimately socially constructed (Hamilton 2003).

Doyal and Gough's Theory of Human Needs

Drawing upon the philosophical expertise of Len Doyal and the economic training of Ian Gough, a fully construed theory of universal human needs was constructed that was designed to permit empirical testing of its constructs (Doyal and Gough 1984, Doyal and Gough 1991). This led to efforts to compare Abraham H. Maslow's theory (Maslow 1943) to the Doyal-Gough theory (Thomson 1987), an effort to clarify the distinction between human needs and human capabilities (Gough 2003), and an articulation of the place of needs concepts in rights discourse (Dean 2008).

Recent Psychological Theories

Baumeister and Leary 1995 examines empirical evidence for the importance of interaction and caring, which were seen as fulfilling a psychological need to belong. Later self-determination theory identified autonomy, competence, and relatedness as universal psychological needs (Ryan and Deci 2000, Ryan and Deci 2001). This micro-level approach to human needs was seen as compatible with the overarching Doyal-Gough theory (Gough 2004, Camfield and Skevington 2008). Pugno 2008 draws upon self-determination theory to better explain economic behavior.

Nursing Theories

Drawing on developments in the humanities and social sciences, the nursing literature views human needs theory as central to an ethic of caring for the needs of those whose illnesses or disabilities prevent them from fully meeting their own needs. Building upon the work of Montagu 1955 and others, Fortin 2006 traces the evolution of nursing's use of human needs theory. At least two textbooks integrate human needs concepts throughout: Ebersole, et al. 2008 and Ellis and Nowlis 1994. Powers 2006 is concerned that needs might be construed as deficiencies and that needs-based approaches might result in oppressive approaches to nursing practice. Others, however, use critical theory to propose humanist discourse about need (Holmes and Warelow 1997) or introduce a transcultural approach to reconciling objective human needs with culturally informed nursing practice (Kikuchi 2005).

  • Ebersole, Priscilla, Patricia Hess, Theris A. Touhy, Kathleen Jett, and Ann Schmidt Luggen. 2008. Toward healthy aging: Human needs and nursing response. 7th ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby/Elsevier.

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    This textbook for gerontological nursing uses a human needs framework as its integrative perspective. The book is divided into sections covering basic biologic needs, safety and security needs, the need to belong, self-esteem, and self-actualization.

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  • Ellis, Janice Rider, and Elizabeth Ann Nowlis. 1994. Nursing: A human needs approach. 5th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott.

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    This nursing textbook uses a human needs framework consistent with nursing's concepts concerning human response formulations. The book has sections on human needs across the life span, physiological needs, psychosocial needs, and special needs.

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  • Fortin, Jacqueline. 2006. Human needs and nursing theory. In Nursing theories: Conceptual and philosophical foundations, 2d ed. Edited by Hesook Suzie Kim and Ingrid Kollak, 10–16. New York: Springer.

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    This literature review of human needs theory in nursing is counterpoised in the same edited collection by the critical approach to needs concepts provided by Powers 2006.

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  • Holmes, Colin A., and Philip J. Warelow. 1997. Culture, needs, and nursing: A critical theory approach. Journal of Advanced Nursing 25.3: 463–470.

    DOI: 10.1046/j.1365-2648.1997.1997025463.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explains how theories of human needs underlie political ideologies and nursing practice. Since theories of needs are ultimately socially constructed, needs must be articulated in a humanistic manner as part of a theory-practice praxis. This ensures the concept of needs does not serve consumerist notions of infinite demand within the context of capitalism.

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  • Kikuchi, June F. 2005. Cultural theories of nursing responsive to human needs and values. Journal of Nursing Scholarship 37.4: 302–307.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1547-5069.2005.00050.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Responds to critiques similar to those later presented by Powers 2006 as well as to proposals for culture-specific theories of nursing. Suggests instead a culturally sensitive transcultural theory of nursing that retains conceptions of objective human needs.

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  • Montagu, Ashley. 1955. The direction of human development: Biological and social bases. 1st ed. New York: Harper.

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    Presents a holistic view of the person as integrated by the pursuit of human needs. This view was influential on nursing's theory of needs (see Fortin 2006).

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  • Powers, Penny. 2006. The concept of need in nursing theory. In Nursing theories: Conceptual and philosophical foundations, 2d ed. Edited by Hesook Suzie Kim and Ingrid Kollak, 71–88. New York: Springer.

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    Traces the substantial history of needs concepts in nursing. Notes concern that the concept remains undertheorized and that it stresses human deficits. States that needs-based approaches risk perpetuating oppression.

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Religion, Spirituality, and Human Needs

Approaches to human needs also arose from theology and religious studies. Spirituality or religious practice are now seen as an important aspect in many conceptions of human needs (Canda 2008). The origins of religion were traced to the human need for an organized response to human deprivation (Nelson 1971). For instance, the biblical concept of justice was traced to concern for the needs of widows, orphans, migrants, and the poor (Marshall 2006). Also the need for religion was linked to the need to belong (Seul 1999). The evolution of human culture was found to be tied to the practice of religious rituals in nearly every cultural context (Rappaport 1999). The major Abrahamic religions have all developed conceptions of human needs, including Judaism (Heschel 1965), Islam (Ismail and Sarif 2004), and Christianity (Hugen 2004).

  • Canda, Edward R. 2008. Human needs: Religion and spirituality. In Encyclopedia of social work, 20th ed. Edited by Terry Mizrahi and Larry E. Davis, 413–418. New York: Oxford Univ. Press and National Association of Social Workers.

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    Describes how social work has increasingly recognized spirituality and religion as important aspects of human needs and diverse cultures.

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  • Heschel, Abraham Joshua. 1965. The problem of needs. In Between God and man: An interpretation of Judaism. Edited by Fritz A. Rothschild, 129–151. New York: Free Press.

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    Discusses human needs in relationship to both rights and obligations. Although there is a minimum of needs for all people, there is no maximum level common to all. Heschel stresses the need to be needed and the needs of people in relationship to the needs of God.

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  • Hugen, Beryl. 2004. The geography of faith: Mapping the features of faith-based practice. Social Work and Christianity 31.1: 3–24.

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    Discusses the role of faith-based practice in responding to people in need.

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  • Ismail, Yusof, and Suhaimi M. Sarif. 2004. An Islamic response to Herzberg's two-factor motivation theory. In Islam: Past, present, and future. Edited by Ahmad Sunawari Long, Jaffar Awang, and Kamaruddin Salleh, 1145–1178. Bangi Selangor, Malaysia: Department of Theology and Philosophy, Faculty of Islamic Studies, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

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    Stresses that human needs transcend the material and that the motivation to work is and should be subordinate to the need to serve God.

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  • Marshall, Christopher D. 2006. The meaning of justice: Insights from the biblical tradition. In Justice as a basic human need. Edited by Anthony J. W. Taylor, 25–38. New York: Nova Science.

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    Relates the concept of justice to biblical principles of partiality toward the needs of widows, orphans, resident aliens, and the poor.

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  • Nelson, Geoffrey K. 1971. Deprivation and needs in the origin of religious groups. Social Compass 18.2: 237–246.

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    Nelson traces the very origin of religion to its response to human deprivation.

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  • Rappaport, Roy A. 1999. Ritual and religion in the making of humanity. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    This anthropological work integrates the author's lifetime of research on the centrality of religious ritual across many cultures. Religious practices are shown to be central to the evolution of human culture.

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  • Seul, Jeffrey R. 1999. “Ourss is the way of God”: Religion, identity, and intergroup conflict. Journal of Peace Research 36.5:553-569.

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    Explores how religious meaning systems respond to a human need to define individual and group identity.

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Social Work Practice

Despite one dissertation that contended that concepts such as peace, freedom, and human needs are central to both social work practice and social welfare policy (Hage-Yehia 1983), no extant practice model in social work has human needs as a central concept. Reynolds 1992 distinguishes between the needs of people and the needs of society. Joseph 1986 contends that human needs concepts should be central to community organizing. Reid 1978 and Saleebey 2006 both raise concerns that a focus on needs might be disempowering to clients. Both the goodness of fit approach of the ecosystems-based life model of practice and the needs resource approach to assessment incorporate needs concepts (Germain and Gitterman 1980; Vigilante and Mailick 1988). Dover and Joseph 2008 concludes that both the strengths perspective and the ecosystems perspective are compatible with human needs concepts.

  • Dover, Michael A., and Barbara Hunter Randall Joseph. 2008. Human needs: Overview. In Encyclopedia of social work, 20th ed. Edited by Terry Mizrahi and Larry E. Davis, 398–406. New York: Oxford Univ. Press and National Association of Social Workers.

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    The authors contend that human needs are realized or restricted at the intersection of the individual and the social environment. Human needs theory and research could enrich the ecosystems perspective and contribute to a unifying paradigm for social work practice.

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  • Germain, Carel B., and Alex Gitterman. 1980. The life model of social work practice. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    Criticizes approaches that tend to fit people's needs into the practice model being used. Emphasizes goodness of fit between life tasks, needs, goals, resources, and stimuli.

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  • Hage-Yehia, Amin S. 1983. Peace and freedom in a reformulation of basic human needs: Implications for welfare theory and practice. Ph.D. diss., University of Pennsylvania.

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    Proposes that emerging definitions of peace and freedom warrant their inclusion as basic human needs. Proposes a needs-based model that could inform social work practice and social welfare policy.

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  • Joseph, Barbara Randall. 1986. Taking organizing back to the people. Bertha Capen Reynolds Centennial issue, Smith College Studies in Social Work 56.2: 122–131.

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    Argues that human needs should be an organizing principle for community organizing practice. This may require restructuring our society toward a more equitable approach to meeting needs.

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  • Reid, William James. 1978. The task-centered system. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    Reid criticizes social workers who act upon what they feel clients of different circumstances need rather than on what they want. By defining problems as unsatisfied wants, he points out that acknowledged problems are contextual and are often structured by the various constraints people face.

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  • Reynolds, Bertha Capen. 1992. Re-thinking social casework. Journal of Progressive Human Services 3.1: 73–84.

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    Originally published in 1938. Points out that Virginia Robinson's more psychological approach to social casework promised a more egalitarian relationship with clients than previous instrumentalist, economic need–oriented approaches did. But the author identifies conflicting social needs to which social work was responding: the needs of clients and the need of society to ensure it was not troubled by those who were not economically successful.

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  • Saleebey, Dennis, ed. 2006. The strengths perspective in social work practice. 4th ed. Boston: Pearson, Allyn, and Bacon.

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    Saleebey is concerned that stigmatizing clients as needy could in turn lead to their disempowerment. However, the model's focus on client assets is consistent with the capabilities approach in human needs theory.

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  • Vigilante, Florence Wexler, and Mildred D. Mailick. 1988. Needs-resource evaluation in the assessment process. Social Work 33.2: 101–104.

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    The authors propose a needs-resource formulation that addresses human developmental needs in relation to social pathologies and that stresses identifying the internal and external resources available to clients.

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Social Policy

Nixon 1970 contends that there are fundamental limitations on the meeting of human needs within a capitalist economy. Olson 1982, however, stresses that radical reforms could result in meeting human needs under capitalism. The post–cold war recognition that capitalism would be a long-standing social formation produced criticism of defeatist approaches toward the meeting of human needs in the meantime (Dover 1992). The Gil 1992 approach to policy analysis provided a tool for needs-based social policy advocacy. Despite earlier work that distinguished between service needs and human needs and introduced the concept of human capabilities (McKnight 1989), John McKnight later criticized needs assessment approaches that stressed deficiencies (McKnight 1995). Nevertheless Robertson 1998 stresses the manner in which human needs concepts are a countervailing discourse to the dominance of market principles, and Gough 2000 explains that most nations have mixed economies in which the needs of people and the needs of capital could be reconciled given advances in social production and social policy.

  • Dover, Michael A. 1992. Notes from the winter of our dreams. Crossroads: Contemporary Political Analysis and Left Dialogue 27 (December): 20–22.

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    Criticizes the view that meaningful reforms cannot be achieved under capitalism, contending that this is a defeatist position toward the meeting of human needs.

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  • Gil, David G. 1992. Unravelling social policy: Theory, analysis, and political action towards social equality. 5th. ed., rev. and enlarged. Rochester, VT: Schenkman.

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    Gil typologizes human needs as biological material, social psychological, productive creative, security, self-actualization, and spiritual in nature. He views social welfare policy from the standpoint of the degree to which it contributes to or detracts from the meeting of human needs, which is required for achieving social justice.

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  • Gough, Ian. 2000. Global capital, human needs, and social policies: Selected essays, 1994–99. New York: St. Martin's.

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    Discusses the needs of people and the needs of capital in light of recent empirical research guided by the Doyal-Gough theory of human needs.

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  • McKnight, John. 1989. Do no harm: Policy options that meet human needs. Social Policy 20.1: 5–15.

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    Distinguishes between service needs and human needs and stresses the identification of human capacities.

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  • McKnight, John. 1995. The careless society: Community and its counterfeits. New York: Basic Books.

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    Criticizes the focus by helping professions on needs as deficiencies and proposes instead a focus on human assets.

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  • Nixon, Russell A. 1970. The limitations on the advancement of human welfare under monopoly capitalism. Paper presented at the 78th Annual Meeting of the American Psychological Association, Miami, FL, 4 September 1970.

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    Takes the position that there are fundamental limitations on the ability to meet human needs in capitalist societies.

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  • Olson, Laura Katz. 1982. The political economy of aging: The state, private power, and social welfare. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    Argues that radical reforms can meet working-class and community needs, even within the context of a capitalist society.

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  • Robertson, Ann. 1998. Critical reflections on the politics of need: Implications for public health. Social Science and Medicine 47.10: 1419–1430.

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    Provides an overview of the political implications of human needs in modern welfare states, stressing human needs concepts as a countervailing discourse to the domination of market principles.

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Research

Given the relatively recent development of theories of human needs that are amenable to empirical testing (something that was less feasible for earlier theories that were lists of disparate needs), it is only in recent years that empirical research based upon theories of human needs has begun to develop. This section includes is a selective examination of research related to direct practice, gerontology, cross-national comparative social welfare, and needs assessment, focusing on works that draw explicitly upon various theories of human needs.

Direct Practice Research

Parallel to theoretical and discursive approaches to human needs, empirical research sought to apply human needs theory to the requirements of direct practice in fields such as social work and psychology. For instance, efforts have continued to apply Maslow's theory of needs to practice (Harper, et al. 2003; Tebb 1995; Zalenski and Raspa 2006). Quality of life research has now evolved that explicitly integrates more recent human needs theory (Costanza et al. 2007; Karademas et al. 2008), including the Doyal-Gough theory (Little, et al. 2004; McMunn, et al. 2006).

  • Costanza, Robert, Brendan Fisher, Saleem Ali, Caroline Beer, Lynne Bond, Roelof Boumans, et al. 2007. Quality of life: An approach integrating opportunities, human needs, and subjective well-being. Ecological Economics 61.2–3: 267–276.

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    An integrative definition of quality of life is presented that links measurement of human needs satisfaction with those designed to reflect subjective well-being and happiness.

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  • Harper, Frederick D., Jacqueline A. Harper, and Aaron B. Stills. 2003. Counseling children in crisis based on Maslow's hierarchy of basic needs. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling 25.1: 11–25.

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    Children in crisis are children whose basic needs have not been met. The authors criticize prevailing Western mental health approaches for failing to utilize needs concepts. They propose a cross-cultural counseling approach that focuses explicitly on ensuring that a child's material and psychological needs are met.

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  • Karademas, Evangelos C., Argyro Bakouli, Anastasios Bastounis, Fani Kallergi, Panagiota Tamtami, and Maria Theofilou. 2008. Illness perceptions, illness-related problems, subjective health and the role of perceived primal threat: Preliminary findings. Journal of Health Psychology 13.8: 1021–1029.

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    This empirical report of a study of perceived primal threats is based upon a combination of two theories of human needs that include four components of basic needs: social integration, self-preservation, personal identity and growth, and worldview.

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  • Little, Michael, Nick Axford, and Louise Morpeth. 2004. Research review: Risk and protection in the context of services for children in need. Child and Family Social Work 9.1: 105–117.

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    The authors report that in England and Wales legislation promotes the use of needs concepts in assessment and intervention. Using the Doyal-Gough theory to assess needs of children at risk, they explain that the related concepts of risk and protective factors are one basis for the assessment of needs during child development.

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  • McMunn, Anne, Mel Bartley, and Diana Kuh. 2006. Women's health in mid-life: Life course social roles and agency as quality. Social Science and Medicine 63.6: 1561–1572.

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    Their theory of role quality centers on agency, seen as synonymous with autonomy. Unmet autonomy needs can prevent the meeting of health needs. Patriarchal structuration of family and work roles can limit the ability to express agency (in other words, achieve autonomy), thus negatively impacting health outcomes.

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  • Tebb, Susan. 1995. An aid to empowerment: A Caregiver Well-Being Scale. Health and Social Work 20.2: 87–92.

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    Presents the Caregiver Well-Being Scale, which includes two subscales. One subscale is based on twenty-two questions addressing basic human needs derived from the application of Maslow's theory of human needs.

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  • Zalenski, Robert J., and Richard Raspa. 2006. Maslow's hierarchy of needs: A framework for achieving human potential in hospice. Journal of Palliative Medicine 9.5: 1120–1127.

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    The authors contend that using Maslow's hierarchy of needs approach in hospice care is essential in that it could permit the design of interventions that might help many develop greater potential at the end of life.

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Gerontological Research

Gerontological research has been an area in which human needs theory has evolved in recent years (Schröder-Butterfill and Marianti 2006). For instance, one sociologist of aging has now explicitly endorsed the Doyal-Gough theory (Estes 2008). Increasingly convergence between human needs theory–based research and more data-driven approaches has evolved (Blane, et al. 2004; Wiggins, et al. 2008).

  • Blane, D., P. Higgs, M. Hyde, and R. D. Wiggins. 2004. Life course influences on quality of life in early old age. Social Science and Medicine 58.11 2171–2179.

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    Their needs theory–based measure of quality of life has two domains: control (freedom from) and autonomy (freedom to). Quality of life in early old age is largely independent of the circumstances of early life, and it is therefore possible to design policies that can enhance quality of life in early old age.

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  • Estes, Carroll. 2008. A first generation critic comes of age: Reflections of a critical gerontologist. Journal of Aging Studies 22.2: 120–131.

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    From a gerontological perspective, states agreement with the Doyal-Gough theory that human needs are universal and transcultural.

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  • Schröder-Butterfill, Elisabeth, and Ruly Marianti. 2006. A framework for understanding old-age vulnerabilities. Ageing and Society 26.1: 9–35.

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    Applies both the capabilities approach and the Doyal-Gough theory to the development of a conceptual framework for understanding vulnerabilities among older people.

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  • Wiggins, R. D., G. Netuveli, M. Hyde, P. Higgs, and D. Blane. 2008. The evaluation of a self-enumerated scale of quality of life (Casp-19) in the context of research on ageing: A combination of exploratory and confirmatory approaches. Social Indicators Research 89.1: 61–77.

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    Relying upon the Doyal-Gough theory of needs, derives an empirical model to conclude that both biological and social needs satisfaction are important for a self-enumerated quality of life measure, which includes control, autonomy, self-realization, and pleasure.

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Cross-National Comparative Research

One major application of human needs theory has been in cross-national comparative research on human well-being and needs satisfaction. Early efforts were theoretically eclectic (Moon 1994). More recently the empirical findings of the human capabilities approach have been assessed (Clark 2005; Nussbaum 2000; Sen 1985) as well as compared to research based on the Doyal-Gough theory (Clark and Gough 2005). The value for cross-national well-being research of a variety of interdisciplinary macro and micro theoretical perspectives has also been discussed (Gough and McGregor 2007).

  • Clark, David A. 2005. Sen's capability approach and the many spaces of human well-being. Journal of Development Studies 41.8: 1339–1368.

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    Concludes that Sen 1985 reconciles utilitarian approaches that focus on mental constructs of optimal well-being and resources approaches that emphasize the material foundation of well-being. Agrees with Doyal and Gough 1991 about the need for expanding the list of capabilities and distinguishing how they reinforce or conflict with each other.

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  • Clark, David A., and Ian Gough. 2005. Capabilities, needs, and wellbeing: Relating the universal and the local. In Rethinking Wellbeing. Edited by Lenore Manderson, 45–68. Perth, Australia: Australian Public Intellectual Network.

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    Martha Craven Nussbaum's model (Nussbaum 2000) comes under scrutiny in this chapter, which also compares her model to Amartya Kumar Sen's more open-ended approach to capabilities (Sen 1985), to Len Doyal and Ian Gough's work on identifying human needs (Doyal and Gough 1991), and to David A. Clark's empirical approach to determining the values of particular groups (Clark 2005).

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  • Doyal, Len, and Ian Gough. 1991. A theory of human need. New York: Guilford.

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    The Doyal/Gough theory was designed from the outset for its value in cross-national comparative research, although it is applicable at a number of levels of observation.

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  • Gough, Ian, and J. Allister McGregor, eds. 2007. Wellbeing in developing countries: From theory to research. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    This edited collection suggests a new paradigm for research on well-being based upon concepts related to human functioning, capabilities and needs, resource use and livelihoods, and subjective well-being and happiness.

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  • Moon, Bruce. 1994. The political economy of basic human needs. Journal of International Development 6.1: 135–136.

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    Uses an eclectic theoretical perspective consistent with worlds systems and dependency theory to show that nations experiencing the strongest economic growth have not experienced proportional growth in human welfare but that efforts to meet basic needs have been correlated with economic growth.

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  • Nussbaum, Martha Craven. 2000. Women and human development: The capabilities approach. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Builds on Sen 1985 in order to further explain the concept of human capabilities. Draws conclusions regarding the utility of this approach for social policy development.

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  • Sen, Amartya Kumar. 1985. Commodities and capabilities. New York: Elsevier.

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    Sen presented the concept of capabilities and compared them to rights, which may not be realized in the absence of the ability to function in various broad and more specific manners.

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Needs Assessment Research

Needs assessment research that distinguishes between service needs and human needs was developed using a human needs theory–guided approach. The Doyal-Gough theory spawned two book-length approaches to community-based needs assessment (Percy-Smith and Sanderson 1992; Percy-Smith 1996). Darling, et al. 2002 found that, when conceptions of needs of clients and providers are compared, clients are more focused on basic human needs and providers are more concerned with the service needs they perceive clients to have. The more recent emergence of theory-informed community profiling in Great Britain has now been applied to social work education (Baldwin and Teater 2009).

  • Baldwin, Mark J., and Barbra A. Teater. 2009. Exploring the learning experiences of students involved in community profiling projects. Social Work Education 28.7: 778–791.

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    Discusses the field education potential of a community profiling research project that utilized the Doyal-Gough theory of human needs.

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  • Darling, Rosalyn Benjamin, Mark A. Hager, Jami M. Stockdale, and D. Alex Heckert. 2002. Divergent views of clients and professionals: A comparison of responses to a needs assessment instrument. Journal of Social Service Research 28.3: 41–63.

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    Research on client views shows that they are more concerned with basic human needs than providers, who are more focused on service needs related to domestic violence, child abuse, and substance abuse.

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  • Percy-Smith, Janie, ed. 1996. Needs assessments in public policy. Philadelphia: Open Univ. Press.

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    This two-part book begins by discussing theoretical and methodological aspects of needs assessment, drawing upon Doyal and Gough 1991 (see Cross-National Comparative Research), and others. The second part discusses needs assessment related to housing, health, and other areas.

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  • Percy-Smith, Janie, and Ian Sanderson. 1992. Understanding local needs. London: Institute for Public Policy Research.

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    This study applies the Doyal-Gough theory of human needs to community-based needs assessment, producing findings that distinguish both the extent of met and unmet universal human needs and the nature of expressed needs in Leeds, England.

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Human Needs and Other Key Social Work Concerns

One aspect of social work's neglect of the concept of human needs has arisen from a lack of intellectual clarity about the relationship of human needs to other key concepts of concern to social work, including human rights, social justice, cultural diversity, and oppression. Arguably human needs is a foundational concept, one that underlies each of these other social work commitments. The nature of the relationship of human needs to each of these concepts has often been neglected. Alternatively human needs has been counterpoised to other concepts in a way that has either denied the centrality of human needs or placed more priority on the theoretical or political importance of the countervailing concept. There have, however, been several efforts to reconcile and clarify the relationship of human needs with other key social work concerns.

Human Rights and Human Needs

Since the groundbreaking and incisive work of Illich 1978, opposition has arisen to efforts to reduce human beings to bundles of unmet needs that are in turn defined as merely technical problems within the purview of the helping professions. Yet Reichert 2003 points out that declarations of human needs were originally at the root of promulgations of international human rights. Wronka 1992 and Wronka 2008 add that human rights provide the legal framework for insisting that human needs be met. O'Neill 1998 discusses the relationship of needs to rights and concludes that the human obligation (responsibility) to meet needs should be prioritized. For example, at the level of bioethical decision making about the obligations of patients and caregivers, the protection of human rights to such things as medical privacy has been linked with the meeting of human needs such as autonomy and avoidance of harm (Barilan and Brusa 2008). Reexamining the relationship between rights and needs, Noonan 2005 suggests the path toward a fuller social democracy, in which needs take primacy over some property rights. Within social work, Witkin 1998 concludes that our concern for human rights is linked ultimately to our commitment to the right to human needs satisfaction.

  • Barilan, Y. M., and M. Brusa. 2008. Human rights and bioethics. Journal of Medical Ethics 34.5: 379–383.

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    Links the moral power of human rights with bioethical issues, such as medical privacy, and with human needs, such as autonomy, bodily integrity, survival, and avoidance of suffering.

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  • Illich, Ivan. 1978. Toward a history of needs. New York: Pantheon.

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    Criticizes the health-denying effect of systems of care that reduce the human condition to technical problems that might deny the capacity of people to autonomously address their human needs for creativity, dignity, freedom, and personal satisfaction.

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  • Noonan, Jeff. 2005. Modernization, rights, and democratic society: The limits of Habermas's democratic theory. Res Publica: A Journal of Legal and Social Philosophy 11.2: 101–123.

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    Explores how Western conceptualizations of rights often prioritize property rights in a way that can ultimately prevent the meeting of human needs.

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  • O'Neill, Onora. 1998. Rights, obligations, and needs. In Necessary goods: Our responsibility to meet others' needs. Edited by Gillian Brock, 95–112. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

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    Explores the relationship between human needs and human rights and suggests the value of considering human obligations.

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  • Reichert, Elisabeth. 2003. Social work and human rights: A foundation for policy and practice. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    Reveals how declarations of need were the basis of statements about human rights, such as article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.

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  • Witkin, Stanley L. 1998. Human rights and social work. Social Work 43.3: 197–201.

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    Explores how social work's concern for human rights is rooted in its concern for human needs and the role of rights in upholding and fostering needs.

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  • Wronka, Joseph. 1992. The relation between needs and rights. In Human rights and social policy in the 21st century: A history of the idea of human rights and comparison of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights with United States federal and state constitutions, rev. ed. By Joseph Wronka, 23–25. Lanham, MD: Univ. Press of America.

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    Wronka points out that human rights standards are in part designed to ensure that basic human needs are met. He accepts the immutability of basic needs, which he points out are often translated into rights in times of crisis.

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  • Wronka, Joseph. 2008. Human rights and social justice: Social action and service for the helping and health professions. Los Angeles: Sage.

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    Views human rights as the cornerstone of social justice and recognizes that human rights provide the legal mandate for meeting human needs.

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Social Justice and Human Needs

Since the philosophical recognition of fundamental universal needs in Braybrooke 1968 there has been growing philosophical consensus that social justice cannot be conceptualized or achieved without incorporating the concept of human needs (Brock 2005). One eloquent appeal sought to link the needs of strangers to any society's sense of social solidarity or aspiration for liberty and justice (Ignatieff 1986). Gil 2004 later clarified that no conception of social justice can exist without first defining human needs and how their satisfaction is related to the achievement of justice. Wakefield 1988a and Wakefield 1988b draw upon human needs theory in the discussion of the use of the concept of distributive justice within the helping professions. More recently Olson 2007 has conceptualized a needs-based formulation of social justice for the social work profession.

  • Braybrooke, D. 1968. Let needs diminish that preferences may flourish. Pittsburgh, PA: Univ. of Pittsburgh Press.

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    Braybrooke distinguishes between course-of-life needs (fundamental and universal needs) and adventitious needs, which are culturally and situationally variant.

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  • Brock, Gillian. 2005. Needs and global justice. In The philosophy of need. Edited by Soran Reader, 51–72. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Provides empirical and thought experiments to support the view that basic needs concepts and standards are required for a plausible view of global justice.

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  • Gil, David G. 2004. Perspectives on social justice. Reflections: Narratives of Professional Helping 10 (Fall): 32–39.

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    Presents a summary of his views on human needs theory and argues that conceptions of social justice must contain a theorization of human need.

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  • Ignatieff, Michael. 1986. The needs of strangers. New York: Penguin.

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    Calls for a language about needs that can express a human need for a social solidarity consistent with both liberty and justice.

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  • Olson, Jeffrey J. 2007. Social work's professional and social justice projects: Discourses in conflict. Journal of Progressive Human Services 18.1: 45–69.

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    Proposes a needs-based conceptualization of social justice based upon Maslow's theories as the basis for restoring social work's commitment to social justice.

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  • Wakefield, Jerome C. 1988a. Psychotherapy, distributive justice, and social work: Part 1; Distributive justice as a conceptual framework for social work. Social Service Review 62.2: 187–211.

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    Proposes a minimal distributive justice approach to the prevention of deprivation as social work's organizing value. Wakefield's concern with natural primary goods (health and mental health) involves consideration of social and psychological needs. Although no concept is more central to social work than needs, it is important to distinguish wants from basic needs.

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  • Wakefield, Jerome C. 1988b. Psychotherapy, distributive justice, and social work: Part 2; Psychotherapy and the pursuit of justice. Social Service Review 62.3: 353–382.

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    Wakefield draws upon Braybrooke 1968 to stress the importance for social work of a concern for universal and fundamental course-of-life needs (needs found in all people throughout the life course).

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Cultural Diversity and Human Needs

Shortly after Maslow's formulation of his theory of human needs, Lee 1948 raised an issue that has proved durable in discourse on human needs. Lee 1948 contends that hierarchical theories of human needs are rooted in Western individualism and are culturally specific, not universal. Etzioni 1968, however, contends that human needs can be universal and yet met in culturally specific ways. Within social work this has been recognized at the theoretical level (Guadalupe and Freeman 1999), at the pedagogical level (Blake 1994), and at the level of the mission of the field as a whole (Mullaly 2001). In addition two recent contributions to the practice literature have concluded that a growing understanding of universal human needs and cultural common denominators can create conditions for effective cross-cultural social work (Vontress 2001).

  • Blake, Richard. 1994. Diversity, common human needs, and social welfare programs: An integrative teaching strategy. Journal of Teaching in Social Work 10.1: 129–135.

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    Stresses the importance of including content about both common human needs and human diversity in social work education.

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  • Etzioni, Amitai. 1968. Basic human needs, alienation, and inauthenticity. American Sociological Review 33.6: 870–885.

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    Contributing to sociological discussions of the oversocialized conception of humankind, Etzioni makes an explicitly sociological contribution to human needs theory. He views human needs as universal, met in culturally specific ways, and amenable to empirical testing.

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  • Gough, Ian. 2004. Human well-being and social structures: Relating the universal and the local. Global Social Policy 4.3: 289–311.

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    Criticizing postmodernist and cultural relativist approaches, Gough concludes that universal needs can be understood in the context of local needs satisfiers and of culturally specific subjective understandings of these needs and their satisfiers.

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  • Guadalupe, J. L., and M. L. Freeman. 1999. Common human needs in the context of diversity: Integrating schools of thought. Journal of Cultural Diversity 6.3: 85–92.

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    Explores how common human needs should be considered along with individual human differences. By drawing upon the need to consider both cultural similarities and differences, both modern and postmodern frameworks are relevant to cultural diversity.

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  • Lee, Dorothy. 1948. Are basic needs ultimate? Journal of Abnormal Psychology 43: 361–395.

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    Criticizes hierarchies of primary and secondary needs as products of Western individualist thought and as inappropriately inconsistent with the principle of cultural relativism.

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  • Mullaly, Bob. 2001. Confronting the politics of despair: Toward the reconstruction of progressive social work in a global economy and postmodern age. Social Work Education 20.3: 303–320.

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    Explains that social work's emancipatory mission requires recognition of universal human needs as well as the culturally specific ways they are met.

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  • Vontress, Clemmont E. 2001. Cross-cultural counseling in the 21st century. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling 23.2: 83–97.

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    Advocates for recognizing cultural common denominators as part of efforts to advance cross-cultural counseling.

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Oppression, Dehumanization, and Exploitation and Human Needs

Recent theoretical developments in philosophy and the social sciences have enabled the development of a social work–relevant typology of theories of oppression, dehumanization, and exploitation that has relevance for understanding the sources of injustice (Dover 2008). Each of these three sources of injustice can inhibit the ability of people and communities to meet their human needs in a way that is consistent with their human rights and with their culturally valued way of life. Gil 1998 defines oppression as incorporating economic exploitation and views social injustice as characterized by dehumanization. Van Wormer 2004 also adopts a definition of oppression that incorporates exploitation, as does Appleby, et al. 2007. Marsiglia and Kulis 2009, however, conceptualizes oppression as being group based. This is also done by the feminist philosopher Ann E. Cudd, who produced the first full-length univocal theory of oppression (Cudd 2006). She restricts oppression to group-based domination that is systematically coercive and unjust, although it has material as well as psychological components. Cudd's definition of oppression, while consistent with a theory of animalistic dehumanization, is inconsistent with a theory of mechanistic dehumanization (Haslam 2006). Cudd also clearly differentiates between oppression and economic exploitation. She denies that all forms of economic exploitation are inherently coercive. Hahnel 2006 identifies the manner in which systematic economic exploitation can take place in any social system characterized by the existence of economic inequality. As a result of these theoretical advances, oppression, dehumanization, and exploitation are able to be theoretically differentiated (Dover 2008). These emerging conceptualizations of human need; human rights; social justice; social injustice; and oppression, dehumanization, and exploitation reinforce the central role for human needs theory in social work values, theory, and practice.

  • Appleby, George A., Edgar Colon, and Julia Hamilton. 2007. Diversity, oppression, and social functioning: Person-in-environment assessment and intervention. 2d ed. Boston: Pearson, Allyn, and Bacon.

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    The authors analyze the nature of the oppression suffered by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people and the oppression of women, people of color, and people with mental or physical disabilities. They discuss how oppression and discrimination incorporate the roles of social class and of classism.

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  • Cudd, Ann E. 2006. Analyzing oppression. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    In presenting the first univocal theory of group-based oppression, Cudd contends that oppression has a common set of material and psychological features. She distinguishes oppression from exploitation, which she argues is not necessarily coercive and therefore is not necessary oppressive.

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  • Dover, Michael A. 2008. Oppression, dehumanization, and exploitation: Connecting theory to experience. In Diversity education for social justice: Mastering teaching skills, 2d ed. Edited by Dorothy Van Soest and Betty Garcia, 296–310. Alexandria, VA: Council on Social Work Education.

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    Introduces a typology of theories of oppression (Cudd 2006), dehumanization (Haslam 2006), and exploitation (Hahnel 2006) in conjunction with the presentation of a student-generated compendium of words and affective phrases associated with the experience of moments of oppression, dehumanization, and exploitation.

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  • Gil, David G. 1998. Confronting injustice and oppression: Concepts and strategies for social workers. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    Defines oppression broadly to include relations of domination and exploitation. Oppression is seen to include relations among individuals, groups, classes, and societies. Injustice is seen as involving the existence of dehumanizing and discriminatory states imposed by oppressors.

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  • Hahnel, Robin. 2006. Exploitation: A modern approach. Review of Radical Political Economics 38.2: 175–192.

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    Describes how unjust outcomes are produced by transactions between unequal parties who have a formal social relationship in the context of an institutionalized environment. The resulting outcome should be considered a product of exploitation.

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  • Haslam, Nick. 2006. Dehumanization: An integrative review. Personality and Social Psychology Review 10.3: 252–264.

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    Provides a literature review of theories of dehumanization. Also presents a theory of animalistic dehumanization (in which one group treats another group as animals, that is, as subhuman) and of mechanistic dehumanization (which is group independent and which involves treating people as automata, that is, as nonhuman).

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  • Marsiglia, Flavio Francisco, and Stephen Kulis. 2009. Diversity, oppression, and change: Culturally grounded social work. Chicago: Lyceum.

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    Employs a group-based paradigm of oppression, one that does not seek to expand the concept of oppression in a way that attributes all injustice to oppression.

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  • Van Wormer, Katherine S. 2004. Confronting oppression, restoring justice: From policy analysis to social action. Alexandria, VA: Council on Social Work Education.

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    Van Wormer uses a broad definition of oppression that incorporates exploitation as an economic form of oppression. She links injustice to economic inequities, to unequal power relations, and to the denial of human rights.

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LAST MODIFIED: 12/14/2009

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195389678-0067

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