Academic journal article Journal of Third World Studies

Third World/global South: From Modernization, to Dependency/liberation, to Postdevelopment

Academic journal article Journal of Third World Studies

Third World/global South: From Modernization, to Dependency/liberation, to Postdevelopment

Article excerpt


Development, the efforts to eradicate poverty and improve the lives of people in the Third World/Global South, has been in existence for more than half a century now. But poverty and misery continue to haunt the peoples of Latin America, Asia, and Africa. The first, and continuing, efforts at development were undertaken under the aegis of modernization theory which sought to remake the Third World/Global South in the image and likeness of the First World/Global North. Its theoretical prescriptions undergirded policies and programs of Western industrialized countries toward underdeveloped countries. With globalization, the development project became incorporation into the global economy through liberalization, deregulation, privatization, and depoliticization demanded by free markets.

The first challenge to modernization models came from within the Third World/Global South in the form of dependency theory, it was a serious challenge since it sought to change the orientation and focus of theory and the terms of the relationship between developed and developing countries. Instead of developmentalism, it promoted liberation. The insights of dependency theory were soon appropriated by a religio-political movement under the name of liberation theology. It was appropriate since Latin America was a continent of poverty at the same time that it was majority Catholic. It was also fitting since the Catholic Church has a long tradition of social teachings and, since the Second Vatican Council in 1965, sought to implement its teachings in the socio-political field. It was especially significant since liberation theology sought to embody theoretical and theological perspectives in a social movement, the base communities.

Today, the questioning and the searching continue. The most significant and the most promising of these efforts go by the name of postdevelopment theory. The approach is first of all discursive, analyzing and raising questions about the language used, its dynamics, and its relationship to power. It also engages in a cultural critique of economics as the foundational structure of Western modernity, and questions its appropriateness to Third World/Global South cultures. It contributes to the formulation of a culture-based political economy, in which peasants, women, and the environment are the primary actors in social movements. It is also anthropological in nature, recognizing first of all, that anthropology as a science emerged in the colonial period, and secondly, utilizing stories and studies less mediated by the needs of Western academic and political elites. The approach therefore is postmodern, postdevelopment, and post-Third World.

The paper argues that these are the three significant stages in the history of development efforts in the Third World/Global South, as experienced by the Third/Global South itself. (An earlier article, "Third World/Global South: From Development to Globalization to Imperial Project, JTWS 27: 1 [Spring 2010], sought to delineate three stages in the way the First World/Global North saw and treated the Third World/Global South.) It seeks to unravel the continuities and discontinuities that run through the three stages, the weaknesses of one stage that the next stage tries to overcome, as well as, the strengths of one stage that the next stage tries to build on. The paper, first of all, is the effort of the author to make sense to himself of the ups and downs, the successes and the failures, of development efforts in, not toward, the Third World/Global South in the past fifty and more years. It is offered here as part of many efforts at clarification and discussion, at critique and construction, and parcel of the numerous attempts to move and proceed forward.


In his inaugural address in 1949, after the military hostilities of the Second World War had come to end, President Harry Truman announced a "fair deal" for the entire world. …

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