The most important confrontation to Maslow’s concept had been offered by Bourdieu, whose social theory offers an alternative foundation for a social critique of consumerism and for the evolutionary theory of consumption. Bourdieu offers a class-based approach in which the role of cultural capital assumes most significance. For those in the lower strata of the social hierarchy, culture has a major influence over consumer expenditure, holding back the response of consumption to changes in income. In search of elevated aesthetic experiences, those with higher cultural capital modify their spending on luxury goods. This new structure not only constrains the consumption of lower social strata and leads to small, less obvious, consumer behavior at the top. This is in sharp contrast to Maslow’s proposal and its argument is well grounded too. (Trigg 2004)
In another allegorical exposition of Maslow’s theory, Deborah Bice and Courey Tamra argue that there is a conscious, systematic method that people adopt to reach the state of self-actualization. In the novel Frankenstein, the monster created by Dr. Frankenstein starts at the lowest level – physiological. Right through his life he tries to reach a higher stage, say, love and belongingness, but falls short for feelings of insecurity. The authors offer a different view point to Maslow’s concept of self-actualization by analyzing the struggles that the monster endures. Since the monster is neglected and left to fend for himself right from birth, he has great difficulty to cater to his own basic needs. But cravings for food, water and sleep are so instinctive that he somehow manages to acquire some basic skills. This is in contradiction to Maslow’s presumption that the basic needs can be fulfilled only with the assistance of other humans. The monster defies this constraint and manages to survive, which is a proof of his quest for higher states of existence. (Bice & Tamra 2003)
The authors further argue that once the physiological needs stage is successfully met the monster gains awareness of his isolation. His curiosity leads his to try and interact with other people, which is why he finds a hut where he can live. In spite of strong opposition, first from the owners of the hut and later from the villagers, he prevails in finding him a home. The circumstances of his life, in the end, make his longing for safety and security a life long effort.
“Upon observing a family, he sees safety and love, and now desires them. Through the monster’s observation of the family, he actually begins to feel the safety need. Even though he never joins them, he began to think of them as his own. He considers the hovel his home, and he also falls into a regular routine. So, on some level, although minimal, he may have touched on the second level, but it is by no means ever attained.” (Bice & Tamra 2003)
Though the monster never ultimately reaches the phase of self-actualization, it is worth noting that his behavior mimics the behavior of one who has reached that stage. Moreover, he displays signs of autonomy, creativity and problem-centered motivation, which are characteristics of self-actualization. So in the final analysis, the allegorical interpretation of the character of the monster in the novel Dr. Frankenstein forces us to rethink the presumptions upon which Maslow’s theoretical framework is built. (Bice & Tamra 2003)
Further criticism of the concept of self-actualization could be presented upon sifting through the biography of the author of the novel. Mary Shelley, the author of Dr. Frankenstein had a tough childhood herself. Her mother dies in childbirth and her step mother was not very kind towards her, which meant that though her basic needs were met, she never really received genuine affection. It could hence be induced that as a child, Mary Shelley was deprived of needs across all levels of the Maslow’s hierarchy.