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1. The ‘Third World’

Cover of 'The Third World' by Peter Worsley

Cover of ‘The Third World’ by Peter Worsley

The term ‘Third World’ was coined in 1952 by the French anthropologist Alfred Sauvy, in an article in the socialist magazine L’Observateur.  However it was Peter Worsley, first Professor of Sociology at The University of Manchester, who helped define the term as a key sociological concept, and whose work popularised the idea of a ‘Third World’ of post-colonial countries as an emerging presence in world affairs.

Developed during the Cold War period, the idea of the ‘Third World’ referred to all those countries with a colonial past who rejected alignment with the two global superpowers of the Soviet Communist and Capitalist NATO blocs. As Worsley outlined in his 1964 book, The Third World: A Vital New Force in International Affairs, the demise of colonialism had resulted in newly independent, non-aligned countries in Asia and Africa who shared many problems from their colonial legacy, as well as a common outlook in their struggle to escape the continuing political and economic dominance of ‘the West’.  Although the ‘Third World’ often came to been seen as synonymous with cruder popular ideas of ‘poor countries’ or the ‘developing world’ , in Worsley’s hands the term had a critical socio-political edge which stressed the importance of global power relations in shaping the economic and social ‘development’ of nations. Rather than seeing the concept of ‘The Third World’ as a definitive category it is perhaps better understand as an umbrella term for a set of contested issues, and  later debates have turned more to concepts like ‘globalisation’ and the ‘Global South’ to explore such questions. However, it was work on the concept of the ‘Third World’ which broke the ground for new and more critical understandings of global social relations.

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