Human Needs and Human Harms: Some Evidence from Rural Ethiopia


Philippa Bevan and Alula Pankhurst

This paper describes one phase in an ongoing 'interductive' research programme designed to contribute to the development of a conceptual framework, and related research instruments, that can be used in any cultural context to identify:

(1) local instantiations of 'universal' needs;
(2) the extent to which these are being met for different kinds of local people;
(3) the particular resource failures and problematic events, actions and relationships which are producing harm or the failure to meet needs; and
(4) the local political economy and socio-cultural structures and dynamics which underpin resource distribution, failure to meet needs, harmful actions and unequal relationships of various kinds.

An interductive research methodology involves interactive and iterative phases of conceptual analysis and field research. Section 2 of the paper describes a conceptual model for researching people's human needs empirically with roots in the work of Doyal and Gough (1991), Ryan and Deci (2000) and Harré (1979, 1983, 1994). It proposes four types of human need: for competence (analytically separable into needs of the body, mind and soul); for relationships; for status/identity; and for autonomy. It highlights two important aspects of life likely to have an impact on the experiencing of needs and harm: human development/ageing and gender.

Section 3 describes the fieldwork context: this research was done as part of the Ethiopia WIDE project conducted in 20 variegated rural sites in Ethiopia between July and September 2003 by a pair of researchers, one male and one female.

In Section 4 the research instruments for exploring human needs and human harm are presented, and six ways in which the data might be used in comparative analyses are identified

(1) produce a list of all needs and harms identified by respondents in all 20 rural sites;
(2) identify differences in forms of need, appropriate needs-satisfiers or resources, and sources of harm according to (interacting) gender and age;
(3) identify differences according to contrasting wealth categories;
(4) produce a 'quantitative' analysis of frequency of mention by livelihood system/lifeworld, wealth and gender;
(5) learn something about how needs and harms perceived by different respondents relate to the local political economy and socio-cultural structures of each site ;
(6) explore interviewer effects by comparing the responses from the two groups of respondents which each interviewer interacted with.

Section 5 focuses on human needs. First the data are used to suggest some additions to the WED Wellbeing Essentials Framework. Then we use them to explore the ways in which gender and/or age affect(s) both needs and forms of appropriate needs satisfiers. We discuss needs whose specificity relates to gender and/or age; how the balance between different needs varies as a result of variations in gender and age; and universal needs with satisfiers which relate to gender and age.

In Section 6 reported human harms to men, women, boys, girls and babies are arranged in a matrix in relation to the four human needs identified in the conceptual framework: competence, autonomy, relation and meaning. The data show that there are two main causes of harm: absences of needs-satisfiers or resources, and harmful presences of events and actions/activities. In the literature much attention has been paid to what poor people do not have that means that their needs are not met, resulting in harm but much less to what people do have in terms of harm-causers. In Ethiopia respondents have identified the following:

· Natural events, e.g. rain failure, frost
· Unequal structures and cultures, e.g. exploitative work relations, gender ideologies
· The direct actions of others, e.g. family violence, rape, community conflict
· The failure of others to act as they should, e.g. neglect
· Indirect consequences of the actions of others, e.g. war, contaminated rivers
· Livelihood circumstances, e.g. too much (heavy) work, too many dependents
· The sufferings of others
· Vicious circles of need-failures and harm-causes leading to an inability to cope, with knock-on effects for dependents
Gender and age affect the experience, causes, and consequences of, and potential remedies for, many human harms and some of these are described using the data.

Using illustrations from the data Section 7 describes four ways in which different needs and harms may interact, raising issues related to choice, unequal power relationships and inter-personal responsibilities, intra-personal vicious circles. Some needs compete with others offering a choice of potential harms. The failure to meet a need, or a particular harm, can have knock-on effects. And the meeting of one person's met needs may equate with harm to somebody else.

In Section 8 we take a reflexive look at what we have done, express some doubts about the whole process, particularly in the light of cross-cultural and translation problems.

Section 9 draws a number of conclusions:

Substantive conclusions
The difficulty of using normative concepts to guide fieldwork research. Empirically we are particularly interested in illbeing, harm and resource failures rather than human needs. We also need a 'language of dismay' (Kleinman et al).
Harms as well as needs; other actions (theorised from a model of human structuration - e.g. related to drives and/or emotions rather than needs)
Importance of gender and age
Focus on transactions and relationships

Future research
Ethnography in the DEEP sites into local cultural repertoires related to needs and harm
Relate the WIDE2 findings to the Theory of Human Need
Research distributions of needs-satisfiers and harms: relate to Resources and Needs Survey data
Model the underlying relationships, mechanisms and processes