Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea

Developing nations deserve more than “Third World” term

For decades, I’ve used the words “Third World” without thinking too much about the term. I recently wrote it in a magazine feature I was doing about people who had volunteered in different countries in Latin America and elsewhere.

After submitting the article, my editor told me that his workplace preferred the term “developing world.” I thought about this, and I agreed. The term “Third World” does have a paternalistic tone and I realized that I didn’t even know its origins.

Time for a Google search. Wikipedia explains that the term “Third World” appeared during the Cold War. It referred to countries that weren’t aligned with capitalism or the allies of the North American Treaty Organization; the latter were the “First World.” How’s that for political branding? I see now how presumptuous the language is.

The “Second World” were communist allies and the Soviet Union. So, ideology  determined the pecking order of nations. Fear, so prevalent during the Cold War, helped to cement this us-versus-them outlook and form of identification.

I’m sad that I didn’t think sooner about the associations of the term “Third World.” Such labels and unnecessary divisions serve to further a sense of global separateness, rather than connectedness. I’m glad that my editor paid attention to the language I used and offered a more current, compassionate alternative.

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July 14, 2011 at 4:53 pm Comments (0)