Guilty of using the term ‘Third World’?

Guilty of using the term ‘Third World’?

How many times do we use words or phrases that have little or no relevance today?  One such phrase I chanced upon is ‘Third World’.  Still guilty for using this phrase? I recently read an article talking about how the world has moved on. In fact, the term is quite redundant now and has no place in our society. Yes, it embarrasses me.


As PR professionals, we are responsible for the terms we use, their connotations, and their relevance. First, Third World, and the lesser-known Second World; let’s understand where and how these words originated. Let’s scrutinize how they were restructured and misconstrued. The truth is, they are quite irrelevant to our present context socially, economically, or even politically.


Where did it come from?

So, like many of the phrases or terms we use, First, Second, and Third World have trickled down from history. It originated during the Cold War period. During this time, there was increasing geopolitical tension between the then two superpowers- namely the Soviet Union and the United States. These two powerful countries, along with their allies respectively promoted the ideology of communism and liberal democracy. These alliances laid the foundation of the concept of First and Second World, courtesy of their difference of opinion on their principles.

If you have noticed here, there is still no mention of the ‘Third World’. Actually, this term came into existence much later. It was first used in an article written by Alfred Sauvy, addressing the capitalist country (First World) and Communist (Second World). In order to address the countries that were NOT part of the Cold War division, he coined the word ‘Third World’.


Therefore, that word was used for countries that were ‘non-aligned’ or did not support either of the above communities that were at war, which included former colonies in Africa, Latin America, Oceania, and Asia. This is how the ‘Three World Model’ was created.


The Eye-Opener

Do you use ‘Third World’ in a different context? Most likely you do. Read on to know how and why the term ‘Second World’ became obsolete with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. But, the use of ‘First’ and ‘Third World’ remained.

Third world

The surprising part is that the term which had absolutely no political or geographical origination continued to be used years after. As political situations and ties changed and evolved, the relevance of the term, we assume, should have been non-existent. But that did not happen. Instead, people caught on to the key and probably only unifying characteristic of most of the non-aligned countries labeled as ’Third World’. Moreover, poverty and colonization determined the economic status of these countries. This stuck on with people and thus it became the blanket term to describe this economic status.


Why should we not use the term ‘Third World’?


It holds no relevance –

A term, coined by an author to depict a political situation with no connection to the economic status, cannot officially be represented or used in any context of communication. Moreover, if the term ‘Second World’ is  obsolete, so should ‘First’ and ‘Third World’.


Distorting History –

If one understands the bifurcation of the ‘three worlds’ of the Cold War and the countries included, you would realize that ‘Third World’ included countries such as Saudi Arabia, Sweden, and Finland. ‘First World’ , on the other hand, included Papua New Guinea, Angola, and Mozambique – based on their choice of alignment.

So, think again, would the above countries really fit into our perception of ‘First’ or ‘Third World’?


We need to stop labeling

We need to move on from the ranking that has been a part of every culture, country, and nationality. First, second, third we know the drill and exactly what it stands for, so, we need to stop. With words like diversity and equality coming to the forefront, it’s time we stop using such labels or ranks politically, socially, or geographically.


Consider using alternative terms

This not only holds true to the terms discussed above but many others that we randomly use just because we have heard them being used or were relevant decades back.

Getting back on topic, some of the terms people use as alternatives are Developed or Developing. – One of the most commonly used alternatives, Majority & Minority world – a term coined by Shahidul Alam a Bangladeshi teacher and social activist, to stress the fact that the majority of the world’s population live in the colonized territories. But is this derogatory?

The best solution to this is to BE SPECIFIC. It is always better to name the countries you’re referring to in a context rather than categorising or generalizing them.