Third World

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Jump to: navigation, search
For the Jamaican reggae band, see Third World (band).
Green usually considered Third World, Yellow sometimes considered Third World
Green usually considered Third World, Yellow sometimes considered Third World

Third World was a term originally used to distinguish nations that neither aligned with the West nor with the East during the Cold War, including many members of the Non-Aligned Movement. Today, however, the term is used to denote nations with a low UN Human Development Index (HDI), independent of their political status. Many "Third World" countries are located in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. They are often nations that were colonized by another nation in the past. The populations of third world countries are generally very poor but with high birth rates. In general they are not as industrialized or technologically advanced as OECD countries.

The majority of the countries in the world fit this classification. These countries are also known as the Global South, developing countries, least developed countries and the Majority World in academic circles. Development workers also call them the two-thirds world (because 2/3rds of the world is underdeveloped) and The South. Some dislike the term developing countries as it may imply that economic development (industrialisation) is the only way forward, while they believe it is not necessarily the most beneficial. The term Third World is also disliked as it may imply the false notion that those countries are not a part of the global economic system. Some note that the underdevelopment of Africa, Asia and South America during the Cold War was influenced, or even caused by the Cold War economic, political, and military maneuverings of the most powerful nations of the time.

The term Fourth World is used by some writers to describe the poorest Third World countries, those which lack industrial infrastructure and the means to build it. More commonly, however, the term is used to describe either indigenous peoples or other oppressed minority groups within any country.

History of the term

"Worlds" during the Cold War: First world (blue), Second world (red), Third world (green)
"Worlds" during the Cold War: First world (blue), Second world (red), Third world (green)

The term "Third World" was coined by economist Alfred Sauvy in an article in the French magazine L'Observateur of August 14, 1952. It was a deliberate reference to the "Third Estate" of the French Revolution. Tiers monde means Third World in French, but in the sense of "one-third" -- it does not mean "third in rank" (which would be troisième monde). The term gained widespread popularity during the Cold War when many poorer nations adopted the category to describe themselves as neither being aligned with NATO or the Warsaw Pact, but instead composing a non-aligned "third world" (in this context, the term "First World" was generally understood to mean the United States and its allies in the Cold War, which would have made the East bloc the "Second World" by default; however, the latter term was very seldom actually used).

Leading members of this original "third world" movement were Yugoslavia, India, and Egypt. Many third world countries believed they could successfully court both the communist and capitalist nations of the world, and develop key economic partnerships without necessarily falling under their direct influence. In practice, this plan did not work out quite so well; many third world nations were exploited or undermined by the two superpowers who feared these supposedly neutral nations were in danger of falling into alignment with the enemy. After World War II, the First and Second Worlds struggled to expand their respective spheres of influence to the Third World. The militaries and intelligence services of the United States and the Soviet Union worked both secretly and overtly to influence Third World governments, with mixed success.

During the Cold War there were a number of countries which did not fit comfortably into the neat definition of First, Second, and Third Worlds. These included Switzerland, Sweden, and the Republic of Ireland, which chose to be neutral. Finland was under the Soviet Union's sphere of influence but was not communist, nor was it a member of the Warsaw Pact. Austria was under the United States' sphere of influence, but in 1955, when the country again became a fully independent republic, it did so under the condition that it remained neutral. None of these countries would have been defined as Third World despite their non (or marginally) aligned status.

With the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, the term Second World largely fell out of use and the meaning of First World has become extended to include all developed countries. By the end of the Cold War, the term Third World had shifted in English from its original meaning and became a synonym for infrastructure-poor countries. The term "Fourth World" has come to denote especially poor and powerless groups, such as many indigenous peoples, living in either Third or First World countries. It is also sometimes used to describe extremely poor countries with almost no industrial infrastructure to speak of or as a synonym for "least developed countries". Heavily industrialized states that were formerly communist are simply called "former communist countries."

Dependency theory

The dependency theory suggests that multinational corporations and organizations such as the IMF and World Bank have contributed to making Third World countries dependent on first world countries for economic survival. The theory states that this dependence is self-maintaining because the economic systems tend to benefit first world countries and corporations. Scholars also question whether the idea of development is biased in favor of Western thought. They debate whether population growth is a main source of problems in the third world or if the problems are more complex and thorny than that. Policy makers disagree on how much involvement first world countries should have in the Third World and whether Third World debts should be canceled.

The issues are complicated by the stereotypes of what Third World and first world countries are like. People in the first world, for example, often describe Third World countries as underdeveloped, overpopulated, and oppressed. Third World people are sometimes portrayed as uneducated, helpless, or backwards. Modern scholarship has taken steps to make academic discourse more conscious of the differences not only between the First World and the Third World, but also among the countries and people of each category.


The countries considered Third World are usually the whole of South and Central America (everything south of the United States), the whole of Africa (with the possible exception of South Africa), the Middle East (except for Israel and possibly Turkey), South and Southeast Asia (except for China, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan and Singapore), and the Pacific Islands (except for New Zealand).

While the former communist countries are technically 'Second World' this is rarely an accepted term, so sometimes countries in Southeast Europe such as Romania or Bulgaria, Central Asian former Soviet states, as well as China, North Korea and Vietnam are considered Third World. Very occasionally, Russia, Poland and nearby East European countries might also be considered Third World.

Personal tools