Version 3.2_September 2016

Individual Paper: Needs or wants? Identifying the foundations of a new narrative for the future

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One of the paradigms of consumerism builds on the assumption of humans having an increasing amount of needs to be satisfied, and a corresponding mechanism is feeding this list. One of the sustainable consumption strategies questions this paradigm asking for a sufficiency approach limiting needs and their satisfaction. This in turn by quite a number of people is perceived to be an attack to quality of life and individual freedom by imposing an ascetic lifestyle. This creates a locked-in situation for those in search of new narratives having the power of contributing to a distinction between needs, consumer goods and economic growth. Distinguishing (objective) needs, (individual) desires and satisfiers is fundamental to overcome this situation. This can be done in theory, but it has to be empirically confirmed, otherwise it will not impact public discussion. Human perception of wellbeing depends highly on history, cultural/social context, and on individual preferences and cognitive/physical equipment. Therefore, identifying needs is a complex endeavour. In a project we are exploring whether it is possible to identify needs that are accepted in society as a whole–and by that the foundations of a new narrative based on a socially robust distinction of needs and desires. We will also explore how people react to the idea of minimal and maximal limits of consumption ("consumption corridors"). An interdisciplinary literature review will provide a list of candidates for needs. These needs will then be subjected to an empirical inquiry in Switzerland to find out whether they are accepted by the population. In the paper we will present our empirical approach and preliminary results.


Day: 2016-08-31
Start time: 14:30
Duration: 00:15
Room: 334
Track: This is the 22nd century