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Why We Use the Term, "Third World"


Dear Educator,

I was born and raised and have spent most of my life in the beautiful Third World – the preferred term I use to describe my region of our planet. When I think of home, I think of the stunning images of soaring Andes, sprawling Amazonia, unpaved roads of red earth, and outdoor markets.

I also think of skyscrapers, bridges, and examples of modernity that may surprise people.

While there is a trend in the United States to no longer use the term, “Third World,” it is important to recall that this is, etymologically, a political term rooted in no pejorative connotations.

The terms, First, Second and Third Worlds, arose during the Cold War to describe nations that were, respectively, aligned with the United States, Communist, or not directly ideologically involved in the conflict. By association, First World became another way to describe wealthy nations while Third World came to refer to poor countries.

While preferred terms, “developed” and “developing” countries, are now emerging, I would hasten to point out that these adjectives are not bland and free of negative connotations – as they suggest that wealthy countries are somehow complete while poor countries, by contrast, are not.

We use a variety of language in Our World Economics to familiarize students with any of the terms they may come across to describe different regions of the world. We encourage teachers to do the same, and to not limit possibilities for legitimate discourse by unduly politicizing language.

Wishing you joy in your classroom journeys,

Governor Germán Velasco
Project producer