‘Third World’ or ‘Global South’? Its time to redefine

‘Third World’ and ‘Developed Nation’  are terms that are derogatory and ethnocentric in concept. The terns 'Global North' and the 'Global South' can offer researchers, columnists, as well as development partners a politically balanced perspective. 

Sarwar Hossain Dec 26, 2022
American writer and political activist Carl Oglesby

In 1969 American writer and political activist Carl Oglesby wrote a piece in Commonwealth, an iconic Catholic journal. Carl coined the term 'Global South' to refer to countries popularly known as the 'Third World.'. Carl Oglesby's topic was the Vietnam war. He wrote "the North's dominance over the global South […] [has] converged […] to produce an intolerable social order." But who knew then that the newly coined term 'Global South' would gain so much currency in the 21 century? 

Basically, the 'Third World' refers to countries that were formerly colonies and were a popular acronym during the Cold War era. At that time, the term 'Developed Nations' denoted those countries in the West whose economies prospered due to industrialization. Power, money, and the influence of ideas dominated other nations, which used to be referred to as the 'Third World'. And this approach continued for more than three decades. But in the late 21st century political philosophers and writers were more inclined to use the term 'Global South'.

So what do the expressions 'Global South' and 'Global North' actually mean? The countries of Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Oceania are referred to as the 'Global South' where the industry has been booming lately. This divide is more political, economic, and social. The North is not lacking technology, knowledge, natural resources, or political stability whereas the South is lacking all of that. Though by 2030 many of the Global South’s middle-income countries will enter the so-called ‘Developed Countries' category. 

However, the 'Global South' is also clearly gaining economic traction, especially China, which is now a more significant factor than it was 50 years ago. The Belt and Road Initiative is a massive project heavily backed by China and is causing political tremors in Asia. In some cases, Chinese influence also has an effect on some countries' domestic affairs. It is becoming increasingly apparent that China will be a leader of the 'Global South,' at least in the vast Asian region.

Colonial exploitation and an unbalanced world

The populations are not equal in the North and South. More people live in the South than in the North. Besides, ethnic and religious diversity in the South must be considered. Here, in the Global South, Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, and Sikh belief systems, as well as many indigenous ideas and practices, have coexisted. It cannot be claimed that peace and harmony have been maintained throughout history but historians may find peaceful co-existence as beauty for future generations to appreciate.

Hundreds of years of colonial oppression cannot be forgotten. Many of the Global South's problems are the consequence of their long colonial exploitation. The so-called 'modern' presidents and military contractors have also caused a great deal of suffering to the people in South Asia, whether it be in Afghanistan, Syria, Kenya or Sudan. Taking advantage of these countries' political instability, countries like the USA, UK, and their Western allies waged wars and sometimes famines. The sad reality now is that influencing the Global South’s political dynamics is not over yet for Western countries. Geopolitical interest is dragging them back and forth (from Afghanistan retreat) from North to South.

In the current era of globalization, are Global North and Global South still effective terminology? As long as power, money, knowledge, and technology do not balance, these terms will continue to be used. There should be no competition over who will lead the world and standardize policies. It must be a shared feeling through which a better world can be built, especially in these times of climate vulnerability and religious terrorism.

‘Third World’ and ‘Developed Nation’  are terms that are derogatory and ethnocentric in concept. The expressions 'Global North' and the 'Global South' can offer researchers, columnists, as well as development partners a politically balanced perspective. No one is compelled to use these terms, but political hegemony exists and runs undeniably through history. Therefore, as long as hegemony or attempts at hegemony persist, these monikers will fit and suit their identification and definition.

(The author is a journalist from Dhaka, Bangladesh. Views are personal. He can be contacted at sarwarsuman@gmail.com)

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