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'Third World': the 60th anniversary of a concept that changed history

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Abstract

The term 'Third World' was coined in 1952 by the French scientist Alfred Sauvy. From the start the meaning of both the phrase itself and its geographical reference have been ambiguous. Generally speaking the term has always had both a political and a socioeconomic meaning, even though at first, during the Cold War, the political sense was more widely applied. The term gained popularity quickly and it became one of the most important and expressive concepts of the 20th century. From the very beginning, however, it was strongly criticised. Its critics have pointed out many different problems, which is why some people have argued that the notion of the 'Third World' should be abandoned. These voices were particularly widespread after the end of the Cold War. Nevertheless, the concept 'Third World' is still valid and it remains one of the most frequently used terms for describing the global South. The factors that made the concept of the 'Third World' popular are still valid.

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... Alfred Sauvy, a French scholar, is credited for developing the term "Third World" to describe emerging new entities in international politics, in an article he titled "Trois Mondes, Une Planete" (Three Worlds, One Planet), published in L'Observateur in 1952 (Sauvy, 1952). He built the term on the concept of the 'third estate' prevalent in France, with references to the critical events of that time; the new states emerging from decolonization, two superpowers bickering, and the different systems of universal political and socio-economic conditions threatening the survival of newly independent states in the international community (Solarz, 2012). Sauvy (1952) introduced the emergence of a new entity that is non-western, different from the first and Second Worlds, but equal. ...
... He explained that the Third World was a political unit, or, field on which inter-bloc rivalry occurred, they were the sources of the rivalry between the two superpowers in the Cold War, and at the same time, they were the victims of the Cold War. The third interpretation speaks to the aspiration of the Third World to assert itself as the third pole of influence, independent of, and equal to the already existing world, in contemporary international order (Solarz, 2012). Tiers Monde. ...
... It assumes that everyone is miserable and exploited. The media has also contributed to the popularity of the term Third World as suggesting negativity given their affinity for news bearing images of war-torn zones, starving and diseased children, inadequate infrastructures, and other factors (Solarz, 2012). ...
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... Some important labels can be traced back to a single originator, though the way they resonate, are taken up and evolve as they circulate shows the living pathways of new terms. Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam's "Majority World" (early 1990s; see Alam, 2008), French demographer Alfred Sauvy's "Third World" (in 1952; see Solarz, 2012), and Czech writer Milan Kundera's "Central Europe" (Kundera, 1984) stand out as examples of coinages that took hold among scholars and the society at large. Alam and Kundera rejected powerful, globally circulating labels like "Third World," "Developing World," and the East-West divide, crafting new categories in response. ...
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