Memorial Week in Evaluation: “Third World” No More. Welcome Global South. by Tessie Catsambas

My name is Tessie Catsambas and I am Chair of the AEA International Working Group. My contribution to this Memorial Day series is to call attention to the demise of the designation “Third World.” The term Third World arose in the Cold War to refer to the group of developing nations mostly in Asia and Africa with a colonialist past, which were not aligned either with the United States (the first world) nor with the Communist Block (the second world). Third World referred to underdeveloped nations, especially those with widespread poverty. The world is now more varied economically and politically: with globalization, we have seen a growing number of middle-income countries, especially in Asia, and the rise of the BRIC countries, an acronym that refers to the countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China, seen as emerging economics. The term Third World implied political divisions and hierarchy that are misleading and irrelevant in the current political and economic state of the world. We now speak about the “Global South,” “developing countries,” and “less developed countries.”

Hot Tip: Ask people in different places in the world how they prefer to be identified. Language matters. Being culturally sensitive and responsive includes being attentive to language.

Rad Resource: American Evaluation Association Statement on Cultural Competence in Evaluation

Hot Tip: Language is dynamic. Terms that have been appropriate at one time become dated, even offensive at other times.

Rad Resource: If You Shouldn’t Call It The Third World, What Should You Call It?

National Public Radio series Goats and Soda: Life in a Changing World

Rad Resources:

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Memorial Week in Evaluation. The contributions this week are remembrances of evaluation concepts, terms, or approaches. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

4 thoughts on “Memorial Week in Evaluation: “Third World” No More. Welcome Global South. by Tessie Catsambas”

  1. Veronica Olazabal

    Thanks Tessie, glad to know this history. I often find myself also cringing at using “global south” and have begun using the term “emerging economies” more often than anything else. – Veronica

  2. Tessie, thanks for addressing this issue. Actually, the “First/Second/Third World” terminology has demised quite a while ago. It is the “developing/less developed” terminology that is now happily in terminal decline – in other words, its use is phasing out as well. It carried with it the perceived arrogant notion that some countries have achieved a state towards which others should strive – as Susan also indicates. The 2030 Agenda has made clear that all countries are “developing”. The terminology now becoming more prevalent is “Global South” and “Global North”. This also has its detractors, but there is still sufficient reason to make this distinction – see for example At least it does not compare one set of countries with another.

  3. I loved the mini education on the origin of the third world. I taught a class once and an angry student challenged me about using the term and I didn’t know how to answer.

  4. Tessie, I’ve always been uncomfortable with the terms “developing countries,” “less developed countries,” and “developed countries.” They’ve always held, for me, a whiff of cultural elitism, creating an us/them dichotomy wherein one group has matured and the other needs to follow in its footsteps. I honestly keep thinking they will fall out of favor, and yet the terms seem to remain the norm.

    I’m writing to thank you for the excellent “rad resource” you suggested – the article about “…what should I call it.” It both provided some alternatives and helped me to clarify my own thinking. Much appreciated. – Susan

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