The Majority World

Another entry about language – this time regarding another phrase which has been troubling me for some time: “The Third World”.

I have travelled extensively in countries which would usually be categorised under that term, and have always suffered from a dissonance between what I could see around me and the received wisdom of what these places “ought” to be like. True, many people live in great poverty and there are indeed slums in many cities. However, things are changing so fast that I feel that the term “Third” no longer reflects the nature of these places…

I was reminded recently by a former college lecturer of mine of a talk that I gave to students in which I described my experience of working in Bollywood in 1998. I showed some pictures of Mumbai to them and asked where in the world they thought the picture was taken. Noone said India – indeed it looked more like Manhattan than Mumbai. I warned them that this misconception was all too common, and that they would be surprised by what was happening in places like Mumbai.

And so, when I went to a conference in Oxford recently, I was heartened to find that other people were thinking along similar lines: my friends Bob and Ashton quietly told me that they had settled on using the phrase “Majority World” to describe these places. I instantly warmed to the phrase, recognised that it has none of the implicit hierarchy that “First”, “Second” and “Third” World imply.

So then, from now on I’ll use “Majority World” to describe those places formerly known as the Third World.

Update: Appropedia has an article stub about this term now — you can help describe it here

3 thoughts on “The Majority World”

  1. ‘Third World’ as a description for nations generally not in Europe/USA etc was bagged a while back by the UN, and many of the development institutions; it was replaced with ‘Developing Nations’… I was never sure whether that was better or not…

  2. Interesting, thanks for the heads up on that. The word “developing” does seem to suggest that those countries are somehow “getting there” where the “developed” ones have already arrived. I still prefer “majority” to that – it’s just a statement of fact.

  3. I don’t like the term “third would” either. Third (!) not even second!(!!) Way, way down below! Even the supposed developed countries are not really that developed and in fact are developing themselves! Really, what is the concept? Isn’t it an efficient way of conveying a rather degrading description of the place we are talking about?

    It is the concept that bothers me!

    I like the phrase “the majority world”. The hearer of the phrase may still interpret it as the “third world”, but the message of “I am not giving a degrading description” is already conveyed, which beats the concept too.

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