The invention of the Third World and the geopolitics of dependence and development

Authored by: Hubertus Büschel

The Routledge Handbook of Transregional Studies

Print publication date:  November  2018
Online publication date:  November  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138718364
eBook ISBN: 9780429438233
Adobe ISBN:


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The Third World never existed as a social, political, or economic phenomenon. It was an idea, a construct and concept of (mainly Western) politicians, economists, development experts, and leftist intellectuals between the 1960s and 1980s (Escobar 1988, 1995). The term Third World was intrinsically tied to the concepts of dependence and development, which were also constructs. In the intertwinement of these constructs we can see geopolitical world orders in two dimensions: these concepts brought up thoughts about spatial divisions and unique regions of the world, on the one hand, while being transregional, on the other. The conceptual triad of Third World, dependence, and development always had the entire globe in mind, asymmetrically dividing it into a First, a Second, and a Third World, following the belief that the Third World was both underdeveloped and dependent on the First and the Second World. Quantitative and qualitative measurements of political and economic conditions came together with ideas about stages of modernization in line with the dominant understandings of the economic, social, and political conditions of the First World. Development was seen as the tool to reach the stage of the First World (Pletsch 1981; Escobar 1995; Mason 1997; Kalter 2011; Dinkel 2014).

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