Understanding Human Need: alternative perspectives

Hosted by the Department of Social Policy

Online public event


Dr Tania Burchardt

Professor Hartley Dean

Professor Ian Gough

Professor David Taylor


Dr Kitty Stewart

This online panel discussion will focus on a recently revised edition of the book, Understanding Human Need, by Hartley Dean.

Human need is a central but elusive concept of decisive significance for Social Policy at a time when humanity as a species is subject to a confluence of intersecting and, in several respects, self-inflicted existential threats. This new book not only reprises existing distinctions between ‘thin’ needs and ‘thick’ needs and between needs defined from the ‘top-down’ and those identified from the ‘bottom up’, but pays particular attention to the question of just what is human about human need. To do this the book revisits the radical humanist perspective to be found especially in the Karl Marx’s earlier writings on the characteristics of the human species and what it essential to being human. 


Tania Burchardt (Associate Professor and Director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Exclusion at the LSE) will reflect from the perspective of the capability approach, initially championed by Amartya Sen, and of which she is a well-known advocate. 

Hartley Dean (Emeritus Professor of Social Policy at the LSE) will explain how the approach he has taken in his new book places particular emphasis on the essential or constitutive needs of humans as ‘species-beings’ and how this might commend the idea of Social Policy as a ‘humanising’ project.

Ian Gough (Visiting Professor at the Centre for the Analysis of Social Exclusion and Associate of the Grantham Research Institute at the LSE, and Emeritus Professor at the University of Bath) will respond by reflecting from the perspective of his celebrated Theory of Need, which he established with Len Doyal in the 1970s. 

David Taylor (Emeritus Professor of Social Theory and Social Policy at the University of Brighton) will also reflect from the perspective of his seminal work on psycho-social approaches in Social Policy and issues of relational wellbeing. 

The Department of Social Policy (@LSESocialPolicy) is an internationally recognised centre of research and teaching in social and public policy. From its foundation in 1912 it has carried out cutting edge research on core social problems, and helped to develop policy solutions.

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From time to time there are changes to event details so we strongly recommend checking back on this listing on the day of the event if you plan to attend. Whilst we are hosting this listing, LSE Events does not take responsibility for the running and administration of this event. While we take responsible measures to ensure accurate information is given here this event is ultimately the responsibility of the organisation presenting the event.
How can I attend? Add to calendar

This online public event is free and open to all but pre-registration is required.

Register for this event on Zoom at Understanding Human Need: alternative perspectives.

For any queries email

This event will be streamed live on YouTube


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