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The north-south divide

July 20, 2009
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I’ve been issued an ultimatum: get serious about the blog, or face a string of frivolous posts. I fear ultimatums almost as much as I fear nuclear reactors, and rather than face a domestic meltdown, I’m going to dip briefly into some serious territory. Fret not, my blogging fans – that’s you, Manu – I’ll be writing again soon about urban affairs, Brazilian foreign policy circa 1963, and the hypochondriac community’s response to swine flu.

But before I turn into a professorial bore (I wish!), I think we need to first lay down some ground rules concerning phraseology. I’ve long been interested in how those in the West refer to the so-called ‘rest’. Specifically, I suspect that the words and phrases used throughout the years by English-speakers in wealthy nations to describe the vast majority of the world reveals a great deal about the history of the prejudice and hubris that underpinned colonial enterprises.

In college I majored in history, with a concentration in “third world studies”. Alfred Sauvry’s phrase soon fell out of favor, replaced by a litany of awkward-sounded phrases preferred by development types, with the “developing world” eventually emerging as the designation of choice.

Those on the left were not convinced, and offered a few alternatives. The two that have made the most headway are “global south” and “the majority world”, both of which I find wholly unappealing. The former, in particular, is particularly unsatisfactory to literal-minded folks like myself – Bamako, after all, is thousands of miles to the north of Sydney.

This is, naturally, a pertinent topic for the ROW community, both writers and fans alike. If we’re going to be discussing issues of economic development, we need figure out how to navigate what has for years been a linguistic minefield.

So, I throw it you, my fellow bloggers and commenters (that is, our parents). Which terms do you think strike the best balance? And so we are consistent, which words and phrases should we use to describe “the West”, a word which itself is an anachronism? The global north? The minority world? The imperial oppressors?

I’m particularly interested in what speakers of other languages have to say on this. How have speakers of French, Urdu, German, Xhosa, and Spanish dealt with this issue?

I’m sure that a book has been written on this – or several – and I know I should have brushed up on my Said prior to writing. But blogging’s greatest virtue is that it gives us the luxury of laziness. So, I turn it over to you to enlighten me.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. August 17, 2009 3:51 pm

    Generally I do not post on blogs, but I would like to say that this post really forced me to do so! really nice post.

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