The Developing-Non-Aligned-De/Post-Colonial-Non-Western-Third-World

First: thanks to those who replied to my plea for books on African-American history.  I’m working through the list now, and more suggestions are always welcome.

Now for a different conundrum.  I’ve been working on my dissertation prospectus–a funny process that I should write about someday–and find myself puzzling over a question of vocabulary.  Or perhaps categorization.  Namely: how do I collectively refer to a group of countries (and their peoples) circa 1958-1978?  The list is a bit long, so I’ve left it for the bottom of this post.  I’ve come up with a few monikers: Developing; Non-Aligned; Decolonized; Postcolonial; Non-Western; and Third World.  But each of them suffers from one (or both) of two problems:

1) The label doesn’t work for all of the countries.  Brazil, for instance, could be considered a non-aligned country in 1965, but it’s hardly “decolonized” (Portugal left in 1822).  And Somalia may be non-Western, but so was the Soviet Union, and it’s not on the list.

2) The label is offensive.  That goes for “developing” (which assumes a particular economic trajectory), “decolonized” (in which independence is something done to a country), and “Third World” (which smacks of “the Other”).

The obvious solution seems to be to drop categorization and appreciate the differences between these countries.  Yet in the story I’m telling, these countries are all in the same boat, a boat that is decidedly different from North American, European, East Asian, and Soviet bloc countries.  That is to say that in this particular narrative, these Developing-Non-Aligned-De/Post-Colonial-Non-Western-Third-World countries share more in common with each other than they share with that other set of countries.

So I’m facing an academic and ethical problem.  I’m going to give myself points for at least grappling with this question and wondering about its implications.  But I’d like to go farther than that and actually do the right thing, academically and ethically.  Suggestions are most welcome.

Countries in question: Brazil, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Zaire, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia, Yemen, Somalia


4 thoughts on “The Developing-Non-Aligned-De/Post-Colonial-Non-Western-Third-World

  1. Vijay Prashad’s book “The Darker Nations” foregrounds exactly these kinds of problems in trying to write a political history of the third world as a concept, though I think “Darker nations” has all the same kinds of problems. You might want to check it out, actually; I blogged about it once, and have all sorts of issues, but it’s still a marvelously instructive book for these kinds of issues. Personally, I go with third world, since it’s the least offensive choice that does manage to emphasize the fact of socio-political exclusion, and that sense of exclusion *is* a big part of what that identity implies, and out of which some kinds of solidarity emerged.

    • BAM! Now that’s what I’m talking about–thanks for the tip, ZZ. I’ll get Prashad’s book, read your post on it, and probably end up using Third World. Part of my queasiness about it all is that I have no idea how people in those countries would self-identify–do they feel comfortable calling themselves “Third World”? One of many questions that I’ll be dealing with in this dissertation, I’m sure…

  2. one thing to keep in mind when reading prashad, I think, is that the sense of third world solidarity he is in search of is perhaps not as pervasive as he would like it to be; I suspect he lets his goal (increased third world solidarity) influence his investigation of the question of to what extent people in “the third world” identified as such. In Kenya during that period, it’s not even clear to me that most Kenyans saw themselves as “Kenyan” more strongly that they saw themselves as Kikuyu, Luo, or whatever, much less imagined themselves in a global body of oppressed solidarity, whatever name it might be given. And often the bottom up identities of oppressed solidarity embodied in a bob marley song or a israelites out of egypt metaphor are more important than the kinds of political ideas cooked up by elites in global non-alignment summits of the kind prashad deals with.

    Me on prashad:

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