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Third World

  A term coined by French social scientists in the 1950s to denote the growing number of non-aligned states reluctant to take sides in the Cold War. As a category, it was intended \'to designate the embattled territory between the two superpowers\' (Sachs, 1992, p. 3). During the late 1950s and early 1960s, the term came increasingly to be used as a way of representing an alternative mode of social development and of distinguishing societies engaged in often violent anti-colonial struggles and in resisting the neo-colonialism of the USA and former colonial powers.

Although institutionalized by the Bandung Conference of 1955 at which the main influence was that of Jawaharlal Nehru (Ahmad, 1992), Berger (1994, p. 259) argues that \'none of the ways in which the term has subsequently been used are easily extrapolated from the meeting itself\' which involved clearly aligned states, no government from Latin America or Oceania (yet to experience decolonization) and not all the Asian and African countries. Soviet and Chinese variants of Third Worldism emerged and political links were formed with the new left in North America, Europe and Japan. Not surprisingly, the Vietnam war, exemplifying and represented as a national struggle for liberation from imperialist powers (see imperialism), proved to be a decisive influence on the geopolitical relations of the USA in the Third World and in ways of theorizing underdevelopment.

Although the term has a meaning associated with the struggles of a diversity of countries to liberate themselves from external oppression and control, it is also frequently used more loosely to denote underdeveloped countries in general — in Africa, Asia and Latin America. But even countries like China, never ruled from Europe, were subject — primarily for economic reasons — to European military force from the seventeenth century onwards and so were severely influenced by colonial relations. Used in this way, the term represents a form of Orientalist thinking (Said, 1985; see Orientalism): the imposition of a discourse on others.

Such a representation facilitates theories of modernization — including military modernization theory, involving the development of a powerful élite to see through development programmes, the politics of order approach exemplified by the Brandt Commission\'s (1980) North-South report and, more recently, neo-liberal notions based on the operation of the \'free market\' (with its freedom sustained of course by the intervention of the IMF and the World Bank and programmes of structural adjustment imposed upon many countries seeking western aid) — which both accepts underdevelopment as a discourse and as a homogeneous condition and sees it as an internal problem to be solved by adopting Western models of development (see, e.g. rostow model) assisted, notionally at least, by a Brandt-style opening up of Western markets.

Given the colonial histories of many countries in the Third World, it is, however, not surprising that the political systems of many of them are founded on the European model of the nation-state. But Orientalist thought also influences more radical theories like dependence and even those placing state and class or mode of production at the centre of analysis which see underdevelopment as an essentially homogeneous and externally driven condition so denying internal historical geographies either as formative influences, or as formative alternatives.

Despite the designation of up to five \'worlds\', the notion of worlds is misleading (see, e.g. Hettne, 1990) for at least four reasons. First, it implies a degree of separation between them in a globalizing world already influenced by imperialism and neocolonialism which have left their political, economic and cultural marks on both subjugated and imperial nations. However, a form of separation does exist as the links between the advanced economies of the world intensify at the expense of the Third World and as the contacts between the former and the latter become increasingly selective. Secondly, despite efforts to stimulate and sustain Third World unity in the struggle for liberation, nationalist conflicts — not least those between Vietnam, Cambodia and China in the late 1970s — undermined international solidarity and action. Thirdly, the increased degree of polarization within a global world economic geography, along with the collapse of state socialism and the insertion of capitalist social relations even in a communist state like China, suggests not a reduction of worlds but a multiplication including the production of material conditions characteristic of Third World societies within the USA, Western Europe and Japan. Fourthly — and relatedly — the emergence of the newly industrializing countries (NICs; see new international division of labour) in Latin America, Eastern Europe and, most symptomatically, in South-East Asia represents a form of dependent development (but see Corbridge, 1986, ch. 4; Harris, 1987) which is, nevertheless — and notwithstanding the financial crisis in Asia which began in 1997 and was caused primarily by the relationships between financial capital in developed economies and borrowers in the NICs — a further differentiation of the global economic geography. Singapore, for example, is emerging as a global financial centre and countries like South Korea, Malaysia and Taiwan were (before the financial crisis) becoming significant overseas investors and the base of some major Transnational Corporations.

The highly diverse (see Krugman, 1989) countries of the loosely designated Third World contain over 70 per cent of the population of the world. At one extreme are the members of OPEC and, at the other, countries such as Kampuchea, Bangladesh, Lao PDR, Bhutan and Ethiopia — the poorest of the poor .

Not only are the variations in well-being between developing countries much greater than those between industrialized countries but also variations between different parts of the same developing country tend to be much greater. In particular the differential between urban and rural areas is especially great (Dicken, 1998, p. 446).

The United Nations has abstracted the 25 least developed countries as a separate group. Today this group is rapidly becoming known as the \'Fourth World\' or, if the OPEC group is also considered separately, as the \'Fifth World\'. The World Bank distinguishes between low-income countries, lower and upper middle-income countries — including the dozen or so Newly Industrializing Countries, high income industrialized countries, capital-surplus oil exporters and the former centrally planned economies. The average per capita income of the high income industrialized countries is over 60 times greater than that of the 51 low-income countries identified by the World Bank.

Dominance in the global economic geography is constantly under competitive threat: \'the new, global economic system is … highly dynamic, highly exclusionary, and highly unstable in its boundaries\' (Castells, 1996, p. 102). This dynamism, argues Castells, reflects global evaluations of four geographically uneven sources of competitiveness:

{img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } technological capacity (the science-technology-industry-society (STIS) system; {img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } access to a large, integrated affluent market; {img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } differential between production costs and market prices; and {img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } political capacity of institutions to steer growth strategy of regions/countries.On such bases, \'developed Asia\' (NICs plus Japan) will account for 30 per cent of world manufacturing by 2000 (western Europe 25 per cent; USA 18 per cent).

The crisis of 1997/1998 in South-East Asia will slow this process but the inclusion of China magnifies its effects. Castells suggests that the Asian Pacific economic geography is segmented amongst five distinct networks of economic power:

{img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } Japanese corporations; {img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } Korean corporations; {img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } long-established US corporations in electronics and finance; {img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } the \'China circle\': ethnic Chinese capital linking Hong Kong, Taipei, Singapore; and {img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } \'overseas\' Chinese, all with direct links to China, including Chinese central government and local states.Thus he concludes (1996, p. 112):

The emergence of Asian Pacific fast-growth capitalism is, with the end of the Soviet Empire and the process of European unification, one of the most important structural changes taking place in the world at the turn of the century.At the other end of the spectrum of development (defined by Castells as the simultaneous improvement in living standards, structural change in production and increased competitiveness)

some rural regions of China, India and Latin America, entire countries around the world [especially in sub-Saharan Africa], and large segments of the population everywhere are becoming irrelevant (from the perspective of dominant economic interests) in the new pattern of international division of labor, and thus they are being socially excluded. (Castells, 1996, p. 113; emphasis in original)Castells (1996) points to the increased polarization within the world economic geography and suggests that globalization has already led to the \'end of the Third World\' and \'the rise of the Fourth World\' (Castells 1997). This represents a geography of social exclusion — to the point of redundancy especially in Africa (but see Agnew and Grant, 1997) — at a global scale. It asks the most profound and critical questions of the point of development. At the same time, it queries analyses of development and underdevelopment which are not capable of recognizing local and global influences on the idea of development. The assumption of universal notions of development prevents an escape both from deterministic models and from doctrines of development (see development) imposed on the Third World:

Most of the disciplines and organisations concerned with the study … and generation of polices related to, the \'Third World\', continue to be shaped by a set of assumptions that flow from a conception of history [which, it might be added, has no geographies ] as linear progression from a condition of political and economic \'underdevelopment\' and \'tradition\', to a state of liberal democratic industrialism and modernity. The \'Third World\' and its history [and geography!] has been created and understood primarily in terms of the failure of the countries of Latin America, Africa, Asia and Oceania to become idealised industrial democracies of North America and Western Europe. (Berger, 1994, p. 266)The task, therefore, is to reinsert the geography, to begin to allow people to make their geographies in conditions of their own choosing. (RL)

References Agnew, J. and Grant, R. 1997: Falling out of the world economy? Theorising \'Africa\' in world trade. In R. Lee and J. Wills, eds, Geographies of economies, ch. 18. London and New York Arnold, 219-28. Ahmad, A. 1992: In theory: classes, nations, literatures. London: Verso. Berger, M.T. 1994: The end of the \'Third World\'? Third World Quarterly 15 (2): 257-7 5. Brandt, W. 1980: North-South: a programme for survival. Report of the Independent commission on international development issues. London: Pan. Castells, M. 1996: The rise of the network society. The information Age: Economy, society and culture, vol. I. Cambridge, MA and Oxford: Blackwell. Castells, M. 1997: End of millennium. The information age: economy, society and culture, vol. III. Cambridge, MA and Oxford: Blackwell. Corbridge, S. 1986: Capitalist world development. A critique of radical development geography. Houndmills: Macmillan. Dicken, P. 1998: Global shift: transforming the world economy, 3rd edn. London: Paul Chapman Publishing. Harris, N. 1987: The end of the third world. Harmondsworth: Penguin. Hettne, B. 1990: Development theory and the three worlds. Harlow: Longman. Krugman, P.R. 1989: Developing countries in the world economy. Daedalus 118: 183-203. Sachs, W. 1992: Introduction. In W. Sachs, ed., The development dictionary. A guide to knowledge as power. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press; London and New Jersey : Zed Books, 1-5. Said, E. 1985: Orientalism. London: Penguin.

Suggested Reading Berger (1994). Crow, B., Thomas, A. et al. 1983: Third world atlas. Milton Keynes and Philadelphia: Open University Press.



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