Third World is widely recognized as one of the legendary bands of reggae history. When Janine McAdams spoke with the band for Billboard in July of 1992, Michael “lbo” Cooper, one of the founding members, declared: “Third World is now the longest-existing unit ever in Jamaican music history.” While a few other reggae bands approach their mark of longevity, Third World is distinctive by virtue of their crossover skill: a great deal of their success grew from their ability to blend reggae music with other sounds, particularly those coming out of black American culture.
Although most of the band’s members over the years have been Kingston, Jamaica-born, their musical roots are unusually diverse. Many reggae bands are spawned from the ambitions of Jamaican teenagers who have taught themselves to play their instruments, but Third World was the brainchild of two young men with classical training. Cooper, the son of a police officer, trained on a variety of keyboard instruments at the Royal School of Music in Kingston until 1969.
Members include Michael Cooper (born January 14, 1955, in Kingston, Jamaica; son of a police officer; educated at Kingston’s Royal School of Music), vocals and keyboards; Stephen Coore (born April 6, 1959, in Kingston; son of a deputy prime minister and a music teacher; trained at Forster Davis School of Music), vocals and guitar; Richard Daley (born July 4, 1953), bass; Milton Hamilton (bandmember 1973-79; replaced by William Clarke ), vocals; Irwin Jarrett (born c. 1952), percussion; Cornel Marshal (bandmember 1973-75; replaced by William Stewart [born February 15, 1956]), drums.
Cooper and Coore formed band in 1973 with Hamilton, Daley, and Marshal in Kingston, Jamaica. Self-produced first single, “Railroad Track,” released in England only, c. 1973; moved to England soon after and signed record deal with Island Records; first album, Third World, released to critical acclaim, 1975; stayed with Island until 1980; signed with Columbia, 1981, then Mercury, 1989. Crossover hits include “Now That We Found Love,” 1978, “Try Jah Love,” 1982, and “Sense of Purpose,” 1985.
Addresses: Record company —Mercury Records, 825 Eighth Ave., New York, NY 10019.
Stephen “Cat” Coore, whose father had served as deputy prime minister of Jamaica, first learned to play a range of stringed instruments from his mother, a music teacher with a sterling reputation throughout the Caribbean. His studies led to training at Forster Davis School of Music, where he gained a reputation as a child prodigy for his talent on the cello. By the time they decided to join forces in a reggae band, the young men had studied jazz as well as classical music, and they shared a taste for stateside rock.
Before Cooper and Coore decided to launch their own band, both had experience on the reggae circuit in Kingston, playing separately and together. Cooper formed his first reggae band, the Rhythms, in 1970. He went on to play with other outfits, including the Dynamic Visions and the Alley Cats; he first worked with Coore when the two played with a moderately successful Kingston group known as Inner Circle.
By 1973 Coore, Cooper, and Inner Circle vocalist Milton “Prilly” Hamilton decided to strike out on their own; they completed the band with self-taught bassist Richie Daley and Cornel Marshal on drums. Irwin “Carrot” Jarrett provided further percussion, including occasional conga playing; Jarrett also brought the band considerable professional experience on both the musical stage and in television production. These ingredients alone seemed likely to set them apart from the many new bands springing up in Kingston at the time.
The group officially began their career as Third World with a performance at the Jamaican Independence Celebration in the summer of 1973. After playing the Jamaican club circuit for a while, they relocated to England, where mainstream audiences were just beginning to discover the reggae sound. The budding band undertook their first release themselves, without the patronage of a label, offering a single called “Railroad Track” exclusively in England.
The fortuity of Third World’s timing landed them a contract with Island Records, a strong label in the process of creating a market for reggae music. Island released Third World’s self-titled debut album in 1975. In another timing coup, a positive critical response to the album won the band the opportunity to open for Bob Marley, the most acclaimed reggae musician of the time, on his summer tour of the United Kingdom.
But Third World’s potential wasn’t quite realized for another three years. Although a second album, 96 Degrees in the Shade, was released in 1977, it was 1978’s Journey to Addis that caught the attention of record buyers and established the group’s sound. In particular, Journey to Addis offered listeners a chance to hear “Now That We Found Love”—the single that demonstrated Third World’s ability to blend reggae sound with other musical genres then burgeoning in England and the United States. The single was a crossover hit that grabbed listeners who didn’t normally buy reggae albums.
In an article for Melody Maker, Paolo Hewitt described “Now That We Found Love” as “a song that by encompassing reggae, funk and pop bypasses any kind of recognized categorization.” Billboard reported in 1993 that the single made Top Ten charts “worldwide,” including the Number Nine spot on Billboard’s R&B chart.
Third World completed three more albums with Island—The Story’s Been Told, Prisoner in the Street, and Arise in Harmony —before deciding to find another label. Maureen Sheridan reported in Down Beat that they felt they would earn more attention if they didn’t have to compete with the company’s commitment to Marley.
Columbia soon picked up their contract and produced five Third World albums over the next seven years: Rock the World in 1981, You’ve Got the Power in 1982, All the Way Strong in 1983, Sense of Purpose in 1985, and Hold On to My Love in 1987. The first four releases all had significant success on U.S. and British music charts—“Hooked on Love,” from Rock the World, broke into the British Top Ten as a single release.
Around the same time as their move to Columbia, the band began collaborating with American pop star Stevie Wonder, developing their hybrid sound still further and finding a niche with both white and black American audiences. Specifically, Wonder wrote and recorded “Try Jah Love” with the band, creating another R&B chart hit for them in 1982.
Since reggae was then largely embraced by white audiences in England and America, it took Wonder’s support and the band’s experimental style to capture the ear of black listeners. This was an important goal for the band; as Clarke told Sheridan, they believe that “reggae is a spiritual force …, a positive force for black people.”
Third World’s particular aptitude for crossover hits has earned them a somewhat double-edged place in the landscape of reggae music. On the one hand, they are recognized as innovators, willing to take risks that challenge the limitations of the genre; on the other hand, however, their particular ability to combine the distinctive sound of Jamaican music with the commercial polish of English and American pop has prompted some critics to charge them with “selling out.”
As Jim Bessman wrote in Billboard, Third World has been “criticized by reggae purists for being too commercial.” Sheridan noted that “to the downtowner, Third World plays uptown reggae, a variant that has traveled too far from the ghetto to be roots.” The harshest criticism, as Hewitt noted in Melody Maker, came from those quarters that discerned a financial motivation behind crossover experiments. “This of course,” Hewitt commented, “opens them up to that age-old accusation of being sell-out merchants, people diluting tunes to the shadows of flashing dollar signs.”
Third World has taken time over the years to explain where their experimentation fits into their views on music. “Roots reggae is a good foundation,” Cooper explained to Sheridan, “but we get impatient with the static form. What we do is add to it and stretch it further.” He added: “No one ever says we can’t play roots; they just say we don’t. If roots is basic rhythm, then you must be able to move on from that to communicate to a wider audience. Music is energy and comes from the ultimate source, and how can you limit that? That would limit the ultimate possibilities of the music.”
Clarke presented a similar argument to Melody Maker contributor Alan Jackson, stating, “Third World represents the voice of the people internationally, not just in our own country. It’s music of all forms, be it African or Latin, reggae or funk, R&B or whatever.” Ben Mapp concurred in a 1992 Vibe article, asserting that “the music is about inclusion—a little bit of reggae, a little bit of R&B, topped with some ska, and just enough ‘message’ to add some weight.”
Whatever the reasons behind the band’s experimentation, even detractors can’t deny that Third World has contributed to new developments in reggae. Deeming them “the first band to funk up the reggae beat,” Sheridan noted that they were also “the first reggae group to add synthesizer” and pioneers in popularizing “the poetry-read-to-reggae art form known as dub poetry.”
The dub sound, which originally seemed to abandon the “roots” sound, eventually came to dominate the reggae scene in the 1980s. By the end of the decade, it was mutating into dancehall—the “reggae-hip-hop” combination that breathed new life into the musical form both in Jamaica and abroad.
The 1985 release Sense of Purpose was identified by Sheridan as “an album that reinforces the group’s reputation as innovators.” It demonstrated Third World’s crossover strength by appearing on a variety of charts, including pop and dance music.
Clarke explained the hybrid strength of the album’s title cut to Jackson in the Melody Maker interview: “It’s dance music,” he conceded, “but the lyric is deep. It could be to a woman or it could be to the world. I love you with a sense of purpose—a lot of people love as a simple reaction to the way they feel about someone, because there’s that spark, but with no sense of purpose. And that’s the important thing, whatever you are doing, that it should be with a sense of purpose.… We aimed to make the message danceable. It’s as simple as that.”
Sense of Purpose also demonstrated the band’s willingness to take a risk with the sounds of American rap music. By 1989 they were indulging heavily in hip-hop on Serious Business, their first release for Mercury. As with their earlier experiments with American music, Third World saw this as an opportunity to unite Afro-Caribbean and African American listeners, as Clarke explained to McAdams in Billboard: “We brought a lot of black Americans to the reggae table through our forum, and we wanted to pursue that direction.”
Without abandoning the band’s spectrum of styles, 1992’s Committed featured a stronger dancehall rhythm. The title track spent several weeks on Billboard’s R&B charts. Mapp in particular felt that Third World had brought to the album an entirely new musical dimension, arguing that they “seem more at home with the dancehall tracks, which generate all of the album’s creative tension and its most compelling songCrait.”
Such aptitude is remarkable for a band that came to life at least a decade before the inception of dancehall—and demonstrates that Third World’s longevity is based on musical vitality. Lisa Cortes, a representative of the Mercury label, explained in Billboard: “They’re not ‘forefathers’ because they continue to evolve and build musical bridges.”
Third World, Island, 1975.
96 Degrees in the Shade, Island, 1977.
Journey to Addis (includes “Now That We Found Love”), Island, 1978.
The Story’s Been Told, Island, 1979.
Prisoner in the Street, Island, 1979.
Arise in Harmony, Island, 1980.
Rock the World (includes “Hooked on Love”), Columbia, 1981.
You’ve Got the Power (includes “Try Jah Love”), Columbia, 1982.
All the Way Strong, Columbia, 1983.
Sense of Purpose, Columbia, 1985.
Hold On to My Love, Columbia, 1987.
Serious Business, Mercury, 1989.
Committed, Mercury, 1989.
Reggae Ambassadors: 20th Anniversary Collection, Mercury, 1993.
(Contributors) The Little Mermaid (soundtrack).
The Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Soul, edited by Irwin Stambler, St. Martin’s, 1989.
Billboard, July 25, 1992; October 2, 1993.
Down Beat, January 1986.
Melody Maker, May 22, 1982; March 23, 1985.
Record, January 1984.
Reggae Report, issue 7, 1991; issue 8, 1992; issue 5, 1993.
Vibe, fall 1992.
Village Voice, April 27, 1982.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from Mercury Records publicity materials.
—Ondine E. Le Blanc
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.
The term Third World is European in origin, but analysts have yet to agree on its genesis. Some believe it came about through the search for an explanatory "third way" to the dualism of capitalism and socialism as analytical frameworks among European political scientists in the 1920s. This challenge became even more urgent in the 1950s as colonies increasingly gained independence and sought legitimacy as states and international actors in their own right. Others situate its birth with the classification of the world by the industrialized West into First (Western Europe and Japan), Second (the Soviet Bloc and its satellites), and Third (the rest) worlds. Still others have traced the term to 1940s and 1950s France, linking it with the "Third Estate" in French politics—the rising but underrepresented bourgeoisie in the French Revolution of 1789—who capitalized on the quarrel between nobility and clergy. Similarly, the Cold War provided the political opportunity for the "third way" in international politics, under the guidance of the newly independent developing countries. Whatever its origin, the idea of the Third World rapidly became embedded in the discourse and diplomacy of international relations, and those claiming or claimed by it were able to make the concept synonymous with radical agendas in liberation struggles and the clamor for more participatory and just international relations through new world orders.
Historical, intellectual, and ideological context.
Despite various appropriations or attempts at domesticating the concept, Third World has always been an uneasy, controversial, and polemical concept, especially to the increasingly sensitive, critical, and rights-hungry intellectuals and elites of the postcolonies. Over the years, there have been efforts to coin new terms to replace "Third World." From a communist revolutionary perspective, Mao Zedong formulated a theory of three worlds in which the First World consisted of the then-superpowers (Soviet Union and United States), whose imperialistic policies, as he felt, posed the greatest threat to world peace. Mao placed the middle powers (Japan, Canada, and Europe) in the Second World. Africa, Latin America, and Asia (including China) formed the Third World. Others have dismissed the notion of three worlds as inadequate, and have asked for four or more worlds. To some, the Fourth World should comprise currently underrecognized and underrepresented minorities, especially the indigenous "first" peoples of various states and continents. Still to others, only bipolar divisions along lines of physical geography and locality make sense, regardless of the differences and inequalities that may unite people across physical boundaries or divide those within the same borders.
To others, the whole notion of worlds is misleading for various reasons. First, it implies an essential degree of separation between different parts of the globe that is simply not realistic in a globalizing world marked by multiple encounters and influences. Second, despite the efforts to stimulate and sustain Third World unity in the struggles against various forms of subjection, current obsession with belonging and boundaries have fueled the conflicts undermining Third World solidarity and action. Third, the increased degree of polarization within a global economic geography, along with the collapse of state socialism, and the insertion of capitalist social relations even among the communist giants of the world (Russia and China), suggest not a reduction but a multiplication of worlds, including the production of material conditions characteristic of the Third World even within First World societies. Fourth, the emergence of newly industrializing countries represents a form of dependent development and a further differentiation of the global economic geography. If globalization is producing Third World realities in First World contexts, it is at the same time producing First World consumers in Third World societies. In certain contexts, globalization has generated levels of poverty and victimhood that best justify the qualification as Fourth World.
Movements associated with the Third World.
During the Cold War, the term Third World or Thirdism inspired what came to be known as the "non-aligned movement" (NAM) a counterweight to the two rival Cold War blocs, and a kind of international pressure group for the Third World. NAM was founded on five basic principles—peace and disarmament; self-determination, particularly for colonial peoples; economic equality; cultural equality; and multilateralism exercised through a strong support for the United Nations. From the 1960s through the 1980s the movement used its majority voting power within the United Nations to redirect the global political agenda away from East-West wrangles over the needs of the Third World. However, in practice, with the exception of NAM's anticolonialism, about which there could be strong agreement, the aim of creating an independent force in world politics quickly succumbed to the pressure of Cold War alliances. By the 1970s, NAM had largely become an advocate of Third World demands for a New International Economic Order (NIEO), a role it shared with the Group of 77, the caucusing group of Third World states within the United Nations. Through NIEO, the Third World argued in favor of a complete restructuring of the prevailing world order, which they perceived to be unjust, as the only enduring solution to the economic problems facing them. At the level of UNESCO, Third World scholars waged a war against unequal cultural exchange through calls for a New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO). In general, the Third World wanted a new order based on equity, sovereignty, interdependence, common interest, and cooperation among all states. Given the economic weakness of the Soviet Union, these demands were essentially directed at the West.
Theories of "Third World" Development
In their quest for a new world order, Third World governments found measured support among radical academics who elaborated and drew from dependency and center-periphery frameworks to critique the basic tenets of modernization paradigms of development and underdevelopment. To these scholars, largely inspired by Marxism, the price of the development of the First World was the subjection to exploitation and dependency (or underdevelopment) that First World states and actors had brought to bear on the Third World through imperialism, colonialism, and globalization. Under the global capitalist system, the Third World can only play second fiddle to the real global decision-makers. This perspective explains both Third World economic underdevelopment and stalling democracy essentially in terms of the assimilation and exclusion logic of global capitalism, according to which only the handful of powerful economic elites in the Third World stand to benefit from its internalization and reproduction.
The Future of the Third World
Because the idea of the Third World was partly created and largely sustained by the logic of bipolarity that governed the Cold War era, some argue that in a unipolar world, in which the United States is the only global gendarme, to claim the same degree of existence for the Third World as in the past would be tantamount to a "fantasy" with little conceptual and analytical utility. Still, some factors persist to make the Third World still relevant as a concept. In analytical terms, the Third World idea identifies a group of states whose common history of colonialism has left them in a position of economic and political weakness in the global system. In this sense, the recent alignment in global politics neither undermines the coherence of the idea nor justifies its abandonment. The Third World may continue to exist in this sense, but the changing context confronts it with new challenges and opportunities.
See also Capitalism ; Development ; Economics ; Empire and Imperialism ; Globalization ; International Order .
Amin, Samir. Delinking: Towards a Polycentric World. London: Zed, 1990.
——. "Reflections on the International System." In Beyond Cultural Imperialism: Globalization, Communication, and the New International Order, edited by Peter Golding and Phil Harris, 10–24. London: Sage, 1997.
Denoon, Donald. "Third World" In The Social Science Encyclopedia. Edited by Adam Kuper and Jessica Kuper. London and New York: Routledge, 1985.
Frank, G. Dependent Capitalism and Development. New York: Monthly Review, 1978.
Haynes, Jeffrey. Third World Politics: A Concise Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996.
McGrew, A. "The "Third World" in the New Global Order." In Poverty and Development in the 1990s, edited by Tim Allen and Alan Thomas. Oxford: Oxford University Press in association with The Open University, 1992.
Merriam, Allen H. "What Does 'Third World' Mean?" In The Third World: States of Mind and Being, edited by Jim Norwine and Alfonso Gonzalez. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1988.
Parkins, Colin. "North-South Relations and Globalization after the Cold War." In Global Politics: An Introduction, edited by Charlotte Bretherton and Geoffrey Ponton. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996.
Rangel, Charles. "Third World" Ideology and Western Reality: Manufacturing Political Myth. New Brunswick, N.J., and Oxford: Transaction, 1986.
Rodney, Walter. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1981.
Roy, Ash Narain. The "Third World" in the Age of Globalisation: Requiem or New Agenda? London and New York: Zed, 1999.
Toye, J. F. J. Dilemmas of Development. Oxford: Blackwell, 1987.
Tussie, Diana. "Introduction." In her Latin America in the World Economy: New Perspectives. Aldershot, U.K.: Gower, 1983.
Wallerstein, Immanuel. The Politics of the World-Economy. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1984.
Wells, Clark. The UN, UNESCO, and the Politics of Knowledge. New York: St. Martin's, 1987.
Francis B. Nyamnjoh
The term third world was coined by the French economist and demographer Alfred Sauvy to apply to the developing countries that belonged to neither the American nor the Soviet bloc during the cold war. Countries of the “first world” included the United States, its European allies, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Countries in the “second world” referred to the Soviet Union and its East European allies. The third world comprised the rest of the countries.
From its very inception, the term third world has proven problematic. During the cold war, states such as the Philippines and Cuba, closely aligned to one or the other superpowers, nevertheless were considered third world. Even after the conception of the term broadened to include economic backwardness, poverty, and lack of power, confusion as to its meaning persisted. Included in the third world during the cold war years were states that are among the richest in the world (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait), states whose militaries were larger than those of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) powers (Vietnam and Iran), and countries that were major powers in their own right (India). Nevertheless, the term stuck, referring loosely to the countries of Africa, Latin America, and Asia, with Israel, Japan, and China usually omitted.
The third world has always been associated with other groupings of states that share “third world” characteristics. One of the most prominent of these is the non-aligned movement, begun in 1955 by the leaders of Egypt, India, and Yugoslavia to advance the interests of countries that sought to avoid entanglement in East-West issues. Another prominent organization was the Group of 77 established in June 1964 to promote the economic demands of poorer countries. The Group of 77, now numbering some 130 countries, is a prominent player in international institutions, particularly the United Nations, where it often clashes with the group of developed states known as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). While the nations that make up these and other groups overlap with the third world, their focused agendas gave substance to what was otherwise an ambiguous term.
Once the cold war was over, whatever meaning third world had was further eroded. The collapse of the Soviet Union brought about the end of the second world, making the term third world especially difficult to justify. Making matters worse, many saw the term third world as pejorative, which in part explains efforts to use other terms, such as developing countries, the South, and LDC (for least or less developed countries).
Despite all these problems, the use of third world persists. In large measure this is because of the belief that the term is usefully descriptive of a class of countries that share similar characteristics. While not all third world countries manifest these characteristics to the same degree (or at all), enough do to consider retaining the category of third world.
The first characteristic of third world countries is that they are relatively young. Unlike countries outside the third world that have evolved over centuries, most third world states were artificially created by others. The great majority of third world states are ex-colonies. Outside powers created states where none had existed. Although the degree to which the newly formed boundaries coincided with the boundaries of indigenous societies varies in the third world (e.g., high in Southeast Asia, low in Africa), in all cases a formal division replaced what had been a flexible demarcation. Because of the arbitrariness of their borders, many third world states began as and remain more artificial constructs than coherent units.
The artificiality of the third world states and their colonial heritage has created a situation in which groups owe allegiance to and act for interests other than the national interest. Policies by colonial powers of “divide and rule” and the destruction of existing political entities made integration and a sense of nationalism all but impossible. Instead of identifying with their states, individuals identify with ethnic, religious, or regional groupings. This narrow seeking of interests perpetuates itself by preventing the formation of a national consciousness. Rather than transcending the differences among these different groups, the state is often simply the representative of the group that holds power in the capital.
Legitimacy is likely to be weaker for third world leaders than for leaders elsewhere. Many regimes in the third world are narrowly based, came to power through force, and use suppression to remain in power. In part this legitimacy stems from a lack of national identity. When people cannot agree on what constitutes the state, they are unlikely to agree on what constitutes legitimate uses of power within the state. Developing states often lack effective institutions for mediating political disputes, intensifying the internal conflicts that frequently arise. Most third world states are not liberal democracies. Despite the rise of nationalism, meaningful political participation and the acceptance of basic rights, such as freedom of speech and religion, toleration of minority rights, and an independent judiciary, are not found in the majority of third world countries.
The power of the third world states, as in other states, derives from the ability to distribute goods. The state in the third world is distinctive, however, in that it controls a much greater degree of wealth and power than any other group in the society. Gaining control of the state is the only means for the ambitious to meet their needs. Hence a major vulnerability of the state is that it controls a much greater degree of wealth and power than any other group in the society. At the same time those in power will mightily resist attempts at replacement because they do not want to relinquish their only opportunity for wealth and influence and because they fear for their lives.
Third world states are also characterized by economic underdevelopment. It is generally thought that third world countries’ citizens are poor, ill educated, and lack access to quality medical care. The World Bank and the United Nations, which categorize nations as to income and other indicators, confirm this view. The World Bank divides countries into four categories: high income, upper-middle income, lower-middle income, and low income. Third world states make up all the low income states and none of the high income ones, with the exception of oil rich Arab countries. Moreover third world countries tend to rank low on measures of human development, such as literacy, access to education, life expectancy, and infant mortality.
One can categorize third world states by means of their self-identification. If a state considers itself to be a third world country, it is likely to have a set of attitudes and goals that are defined by its “third worldness.” For example, third world states overwhelmingly supported the huge price increases in Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil in 1974 despite the horrendous economic effects they caused. Third world solidarity has also been displayed in votes at the United Nations, where countries seen as third world tend to vote similarly. It is possible to speak of a third world therefore because member states do and because they act in at least some ways in terms of their self-identification.
These generalizations are not set forth to suggest that all third world countries share these characteristics equally. Different states manifest different characteristics. Nor do these generalizations apply only to the third world. As demonstrated by the collapse of the second world in 1989, states outside the third world also suffer from problems such as weak legitimacy. What some say justifies considering the third world as a category is that whatever combination of factors may exist in a particular third world state, their cumulative impact makes virtually all third world leaders more vulnerable to overthrow—particularly by internal threats such as coups and rebellions— than other leaders.
Finally, the third world is not a static category. Countries formerly considered to be in the third world have left that status behind, while other states that had been second world countries find themselves increasingly being considered third world. Countries such as Taiwan can become more politically stable, or previously stable countries can plunge into chaos, as occurred with Yugoslavia. Some states, such as South Korea and Singapore, have achieved impressive levels of economic development, while others, such as many of the former Russian republics have descended into “third world” levels of poverty and despair.
There is little question that third world is a messy, ambiguous, and vague term. For those who demand rigor in their definitions, the category of third world has long lost its utility. And yet the persistence of the term indicates that it satisfies a need for many in describing the condition of states and peoples that is not met by any other categorization. As long as poverty and instability exist, so too will the relevance of the category “third world.”
SEE ALSO Anticolonial Movements; Cold War; Colonialism; Developing Countries; Globalization, Social and Economic Aspects of; Nation-State; Neutral States; North and South, The (Global); Poverty; South, The (USA); State, The; Union of Soviet Socialist Republics; United Nations; World Bank, The
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Worsley, Peter. 1979. How Many Worlds? Third World Quarterly 1 (2): 100–108.
Steven R. David
The unofficial but common term "Third World" refers to the world's less wealthy and less developed countries . In the decades after World War II, the term was developed in recognition of the fact that these countries were emerging from colonial control and were prepared to play an independent role in world affairs. In academic discussions of the world as a single, dynamic system, or world systems theory, the term distinguishes smaller, nonaligned countries from powerful capitalist countries (the First World ) and from the now disintegrating communist bloc (the Second World ). In more recent usage, the term has come to designate the world's less developed countries that are understood to share a number of characteristics, including low levels of industrial activity, low per capita income and literacy rates, and relatively poor health care that leads to high infant mortality rates and short life expectancies. Often these conditions accompany inequitable distribution of land, wealth, and political power and an economy highly dependent on exploitation of natural resources .