Manfred Max-Neef

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Path Breakers & Path Finders
Manfred Max-Neef. Image: CEPAUR

“I severed my ties with the trends imposed by the economic establishment, disengaged myself from “objective abstractions” and decided to “step into the mud”.

In 2019, Manfred Max-Neef passed away. The UCRF board wishes to acknowledge Manfred Max Neef as one of the most influential guides to our work in fashion and sustainability….

Max-Neef (1932-2019) was a Chilean economist who worked against the grain of established hierarchical ideas about fundamental human needs. While the hierarchical approach presented needs as stages of human experience to be progressed through, with some needs only met as wealth increases (an approach that was used to justify economic growth logic); Max-Neef instead devised a taxonomy of fundamental human needs, that presented all needs as equal and present regardless of income or type of society. His taxonomy unfolded sophisticated expressions of needs and how to meet them with material and non-material (psychological) satisfiers. As such Max-Neef shaped subsequent scholarship and practical understanding about the purpose of clothing, dress and fashion business; placing concern for all people, regardless of wealth or type of society, as the living purpose for human activity.

We see this as the beginning of an initiative to acknowledge the many voices who have inspired and guided our work over many years.

One of UCRF’s goals is to create an ‘activist knowledge ecology’, and as part of this we wish to to also acknowledge the ‘path breakers’ of our field. However, while it is tempting to “stand on the shoulders of giants,” we also want to stand, sit and lie down elsewhere, and in so doing acknowledge the multitude of ways sustainability in fashion must be studied and practised. The landscape of sustainability is rich and diverse, and UCRF wants to push for a variety of paths to experience and explore these vistas. We want to put special focus on marginalised and silenced voices and perspectives. If we only have an epistemic monoculture that cuts through the field, this will neither answer the many needs of diverse cultures nor the needs of the planet. 

We need a multitude of paths and journeys led by local guides.

In celebrating path breakers, we want to avoid the programmed tendency to have a reading list where men cite men about men, or NGOs and government agencies writing reports about other NGOs or government agencies. We want to challenge citation practices as a narrow reproductive technology of our field, centring the whole world around certain normative behaviours, bodies, cultures and consumption habits. This is what Sara Ahmed has pointed out as “Creating Feminist Paths”. In Living a Feminist Life, Ahmed points out; “Citation is how we acknowledge our debt to those who came before; those who helped us find our way when the way was obscured because we deviated from the paths we were told to follow.” (2017: 17)

We must cite accurate sources, but references and citations can also petrify a discipline. Acknowledging and establishing more inclusive genealogies is crucial for addressing a more diverse development of a field. Living and promoting a sustainable life must also mean performing pluralist and convivial academic practices.

More on the Path Breakers — Path Finders initiative will be posted soon.

If you are interested in Max-Neef’s work, one starting point could be: From the Outside Looking in: Experiences in Barefoot Economics. Or this short video.

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