This post is in response to me being about two years behind the times as I just came across the World Bank’s article from 2015: Should we continue to use the term “developing world”?
In a word, No! But it’s a good question to ask.
Two decades ago, geographers ditched the term “Third World” due to its negative connotations. Unfortunately, people still use it; even my Grade 7s said their Grade 6 teacher had used it last year. Now it’s time to move on from “Developing World”.
But is this just “political correctness” as some claim? I hate that term. It instantly categorizes empathetic, inclusive clear-minded thinking as something from the fringe that we only use because we’re supposed to, like kissing Aunt Edna’s furry cheek against our wishes. Speaking to people and writing about them in ways that are not offensive should be our default position, especially for educators. We’re trying to improve things, not simply revert to lowest common denominator wordsmithing.
So, now that “Developing World” is out, how do we refer to countries that are struggling with development? After all, terms such as “failed states” are still in use. I like the term “emerging” markets, but that’s a very economics-based descriptor. Or, perhaps this notion of dividing the world into discreet groups of countries is no longer valid. As the article points out, the now late Hans Rosling quite correctly argued that the world’s nations are now far more similar than they were 50 years ago when the world was “conveniently” divided into two or three worlds. Even then, “the North” and “the South” (or the Haves and Have Nots, the West and the Rest, etc.) seemed not only inappropriate, but completely artificial. Perhaps the time has come for us to stop tossing ¾s of the world into one bucket.
We’re dealing with a continuum now. There’s no room for the “us and them” attitude that pervades development geography. At the same time, perhaps we also need to look at re-branding at least some of the “most developed” countries as being “over-developed”. You see, we’ve always taken for granted that more development is better than less development. What about those “highly developed” nations that have obscenely high GNIs per capita, yet treat their people with indifference? Or the “developed” countries that have overweight and obesity rates of 30%?
I just had a look at the most recent data for HDI and I was struck (as I always am) by the last column: GNI per capita rank minus HDI rank. countries with low numbers rank about the same in GNI per capita and HDI, which is somewhat expected given the correlation between wealth and development. But countries with high positive numbers rank much better in HDI than they do in GNI per capita, meaning they are doing much better development-wise than their GNI would otherwise indicate – like making silk purses out of sow’s ears.
Australia, New Zealand and Iceland have either 19 or 20 which means they rank considerably higher in HDI than in GNI. I would argue that’s a good thing – it’s these countries that should be applauded. Look at Cuba: it has a difference of 48. That is truly significant! They are making greater strides in human development than their per capita GNI would indicate. At the same time, though, the UAE has a difference of –35, Qatar is –32 and Saudi Arabia is –26. So, who really is “developed”? Who most has their s—t together? Perhaps a bigger shift is needed in how we categorize development and how well governments really look after their people. But that’s for another post.