Why the term ‘third world’ isn’t a useful one.
Like many phrases in language, they are used without any thought of their origins and what they actually mean either in ‘real terms’ or the image that the term may create. The term third world is one of these phrases; and these are my thoughts as to why it’s not a very useful one!
Wide reading on this subject settles only the fact that the genesis of the term ‘third world’ isn’t exactly clear. However, there seems to a link toward a need to define the world into categories. A theory suggests that the first world consisting of the western industrialised world, the second being the Soviet Bloc and the third, being every one else. The term is also believed to have been invented by a French demographer called Sauvy in 1952, used to signify the commoners against the aristocracy. In any case, the descriptive phrase ‘The third World’ was used everywhere and the notion of its origin became lost in a given understanding of what it actually means. Even with the end of the cold war and the notion of second world ceased, third world continued to be used to describe all those countries that are economically poorer.
Sauvy’s ‘Third world’ invokes a very ‘narrow image’ in the western world and interpretation of the what/where scenario reflects this. Primarily, the term suggest a hierarchy of importance – in the west – being first suggests ‘winner’ - placed higher on the podium above ‘third’ – who is always the ‘runner up!’ Third never beats first, no matter how fast they run/swim/drive..whatever! So, do we perceive immediately that the ‘third world’ will conceptually never be as developed as the west no matter how hard they try?
Furthermore, the notion of where the actual third world is misleading too. The image created here is to divide the earth – North rich. South poor. This concept fails to recognise that Australia and New Zealand are very much globally south! And that in fact, there are pockets of people in the poorer nations that aren’t poor and people in the richer nations that certainly aren’t rich! This sweeping statement distorts the image of where the poorer nations are located and creates a generalisation of their needs!
I also sense a loss of identity by grouping ‘poorer’ and less industrialised economies under such a broad heading. Since the third world constitutes ¾ of the world, it’s almost preposterous to group these nations together and by doing so, it wipes out their history, culture and individualism. Each country will have different needs and be at different phases of development; by calling all of them ‘the third world’ we are almost putting all their needs in the same pot – where the reality is that countries all over the world will have different needs.