Academic journal article Journal of Third World Studies

The Colonial in the Global: Where Does the Third World Fit In?

Academic journal article Journal of Third World Studies

The Colonial in the Global: Where Does the Third World Fit In?

Article excerpt


The end of the Cold War has thrown into sharp relief the logic that historically sustained the relationships between formerly colonized countries and their colonizers. Most importantly, it has brought to the fore the frailties of structures of consciousness on the part of Third World peoples, including those in the Diaspora. This paper is not concerned with the oft repeated question: What happened? How do we make sense of the political irrelevance of the "Third World," especially in the countries that achieved their independence in the 1950s and 60s? Rather, it is concerned with how is it that globalization, however this term is defined, has revived forms of consciousness and patterns of action and behavior that are closely associated with the colonial era or reproduce its dynamics in the South as well as the North.

The paradoxes of colonial forms of consciousness unfold in various ways, some obvious, others more subtle. However, because they problematize the history and expectations of movements of decolonization of the 1950s, these paradoxes need to be unraveled unapologetically.

Language continues to be an issue in identifying countries that became independent a half a century ago. The concept of "Third World" is clearly inaccurate as the former Soviet empire fragmented into states with different levels of development, some of which bearing strong resemblances with the states in the Middle East or Africa. However, the "Third World" as a concept has become common currency, and its general meaning is understood by all. I will use it interchangeably with the concept of the South that also covers Southern American countries that won their independence in the XIX century, as they all share features in common.


Without getting into the details of the challenges faced by the economic systems of Third World nations, it is worth noting their fluctuations. Every so often we are told that one country or one region has achieved its development. The Brazilian "miracle" was eclipsed by the Asian "miracle," which in turn is being outshined by an Indian "miracle" in the making. Without throwing cold water on the states anointed by the grace of the Market, whose designs are as inscrutable as they are capricious, it is worth noting that poverty engulfs 420 million people (-this is a conservative estimate-); illiteracy affects close to one billion people of whom 130 million are children; the HIV/AIDS epidemic has killed nearly 19 million people and has yet to be contained (-in fact in Kenya it has been declared a "natural disaster"); hunger affects 850 million people; food is in short supply, and unemployment is on the rise. In places that have found a niche in the global economy (such as India), the newly acquired wealth has yet to reach the lives of the many.

I will not discuss the role played by structural programs in this situation, but will point out that these programs have accomplished what they purported to do. At the economic level, they hastened the re-inscription of Third World countries into the world economy as producers of raw materials and recipients of manufactured goods as well as foodstuffs. By the same token, the market is accepted as the mediator between state and society. States now hide behind the twin principles of supply and demand as justifications for leaving unattended the social consequences of contraction, lay offs and restructuring.

At the political level, structural adjustment programs, have helped the re-legitimation of Third World states while, at the same time, contributing to their de-legitimization. Political "liberalization" or "democratization" has expanded the common man's and woman's participation in the political process that had been severely restricted before. However, democracy on command has had a dual effect: on the one hand, it brought to the fore new faith-based political forces (-this was an unexpected outcome-); on the other hand, it highlighted all the dysfunctions of formal democracy reduced to casting a ballot. …

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