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Third World

Origins, Theories Of "third World" Development, The Future Of The Third World, Bibliography

The term Third World has long served to describe countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America that have been seen to share relatively low per-capita incomes, high rates of illiteracy, limited development of industry, agriculture-based economies, short life expectancies, low degrees of social mobility, and unstable political structures. The 120 countries of the Third World also share a history of unequal encounters with the West, mostly through colonialism and globalization.

During the Cold War (1945–1991), Third World referred to countries that were relatively minor players on the international stage, strategic though they sometimes were to the United States and the Soviet Union as these superpowers sought to maintain their balance of terror. The tendency was to essentialize, oversimplify, and homogenize complex identities and diversities in the political systems of the Third World by focusing too narrowly on the politics of bipolarity. Yet the so-called Third World countries always had many more divergences than similarities in their histories, cultures, demographies, climates, and geographies, and a great variation in capacities, attitudes, customs, living standards, and levels of underdevelopment or modernization.

Unilinear assumptions of modernization also encouraged pejorative connotations of the Third World as cultures and peoples trapped in tradition and custom, with a progressive few desperately seeking a "civilizing mission" in order to graduate into the rights and freedoms that capitalism and its modernity promise individuals and communities. Deaf to the diversities in the history, politics, and economics of the countries in question, and to the cultural and intersubjective rationalities that give contextual meanings to development, the concept has failed to inspire a meaningful comparative analysis of development.

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