Any discussion of the historical geography of the Third World is usually liberally sprinkled with words such as ‘imperialism’, ‘colonialism’, ‘neo-colonialism’ and so on. In some texts it is almost impossible to distinguish a separate meaning for each and, indeed, the terms will often have been used interchangeably. But what do they mean and how do they differ?
Imperialism tends to be used in two different ways. First, there is the general or colloquial sense which describes the exploitative relationship between the core and periphery. Second, in a technical sense as used by Marxists, to discuss the latest stage in the evolution of capitalism - a stage in which a high degree of concentration of the ownership of the means of production has resulted in monopoly capitalism, or control of the world economy.
Clearly these two alternatives are not incompatible but there is considerable disagreement over the dates to which it applies, even amongst Marxists. Some claim that imperialism began only towards the end of the nineteenth century, others that it emerged when capitalism started to expand out of Europe in the sixteenth century, following the demise of feudalism.