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The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Consumption and Consumer Studies by J. Michael Ryan, Daniel Thomas Cook

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Needs and Wants

PIERGIORGIO DEGLI ESPOSTI

University of Bologna, Italy

DOI: 10.1002/9781118989463.wbeccs180

The terms “needs” and “wants” are part of the vocabulary of sociology, especially of the sociological branch devoted to the study of consumption and the economy, often with reference to the analysis and transformation of the modern consumer. A need is essential for organisms to live a healthy life. Deficiency of a need would cause a clear negative outcome, such as dysfunction or death. It is in this way that needs are distinguished from wants. Needs can be categorized as objective and physical, such as food, or as subjective and psychological, such as the need for self-esteem. The need derived from the primordial instinct of survival (primary needs) is understood also as the achievement of psychophysical (secondary) needs.

Karl Marx coined the famous definition in which he describes humans as “creatures of need” or “needy creatures” (1959/1932) who are subject to a complex and painful journey to achieve their needs, regardless of whether they are physical or emotional needs. Marx affirmed that as an individual meets certain needs, he/she immediately creates new ones. The subject naturally and constantly follows this cyclical process of recreation.

The influence of the Marxian conceptualization remains relevant: the political economist Michael Lebowitz develops the Marxian theories in Beyond Capital (1992). György Márkus, beginning with Marx's reflections, develops a theory ...

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