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Poll #2: Counting worlds

Which of the following statements is most true for you? (Note: Europe *includes* the British Isles for the sake of this poll.)

I am from Europe & "First World" IS synonymous with "Old World"
I am from Europe & "First World" is NOT synonymous with "Old World"
I am NOT from Europe & "First World" IS synonymous with "Old World"
I am NOT from Europe & "First World" is NOT synonymous with "Old World"

Feel free to say you're from Europe if you feel living there for a while/being raised by at least one European relative had a major effect on your relevant use of language.

Apropos of a couple comments by la_marquise_de_ on jimhines's lj.
The lazy use of 'First World' throws everything on Europe. You guys over that side of the Atlantic are the New World. And while I know that many people forget this -- and the whole world counting thing is deeply, deeply flawed and patronising and I dislike it hugely -- every once in a while I get British about it and find myself muttering 'Own your own issues, don't just blame us over here' at USians on the internets.

But to Europeans, it looks like us, rather than you, because here, you're the New World (2nd World), we're the Old or First World.



( 27 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 21st, 2011 12:11 pm (UTC)
I've never heard First World applied to anything except the industrialized West as a whole. ("West" here including places such as Australia, but that's another can of worms.)

The Second World used to be the Communist bloc, but was never much used, and has fallen out of use altogether now, hasn't it? I wonder if it might be revived in terms of the BRIC countries?

The Third World, of course, we have always with us.
Jul. 21st, 2011 12:42 pm (UTC)
I've never heard First World applied to anything except the industrialized West as a whole.

I've definitely heard it applied to other wealthy nations, like Japan, but I've never heard of it *not* applying to the 'New World'.
Jul. 21st, 2011 03:58 pm (UTC)
True, I'd forgotten Japan.
Jul. 21st, 2011 07:45 pm (UTC)
This. I've always understood "First World" as being wealthy industrialized nations. Second World is what I'd term "developing" nations and Third World the poorest nations.
Jul. 21st, 2011 12:19 pm (UTC)
This is actually a much more complex issue than my poll answer reflects. Generally, when I use "First World" colloquially, I'm talking about the industrialized core of Europe, Japan, and the United States, and "Second World" is generally elided. In a historical sense, "First World" does apply to Europe only, as America is the "New World" (or in some counting systems the "Second World", though as steepholm notes, this has also been commonly applied to the Socialist west). "Third World," initially a differentiator adopted by African independence fighters, is now a disparaging term for the developing world. And in conclusion, 1) I think someone is reading into the use of "First World" things that are not there, and b) This is why I prefer "Global North/South" rather than an ambiguous world-counting system.

Edited at 2011-07-21 12:21 pm (UTC)
Jul. 21st, 2011 01:18 pm (UTC)
In a historical sense, "First World" does apply to Europe only

Do you have a sense for *when*, historically, this applies to discussions using this phrase?
Jul. 21st, 2011 01:21 pm (UTC)
I think I meant a discipline-based sense rather than a historical sense; in some Latin American social sciences and political stuff I've studied, "first world" refers to Europe, "second world" to North and South America, etc. (It's distinct from the historical taxonomy of Old/New/Third world.)
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 21st, 2011 12:35 pm (UTC)
Yes, this. I'm from Europe and am happy with 'Old World', 'New World' and 'Third World' but confused by 'First World' and 'Second World'.
Jul. 22nd, 2011 08:21 pm (UTC)
I first heard the term in the late 60s/early 70s through the charity fund raising campaign Third World First. As used back then, the First World was the rich developed nations (UK, Europe, US and possibly Japan), the Second World was the USSR and Soviet Bloc and the Third World was Africa, India and probably South America.

Of course nearly 50 years on, the categories are all changed and we have the new terminology like the BRICs countries and to be honest, the only reference to 'First World' I hear nowadays is from Americans talking about 'First Word problems'.
Jul. 21st, 2011 12:44 pm (UTC)
As steepholm says, I've only ever heard it used to mean the Western (non-communist) world, and usually nowadays only when people disparage their own "first world problems," which is a completely different can of worms.
Jul. 21st, 2011 12:48 pm (UTC)
I never hear "first world" much like other people. For me "old world" implies europe, and maybe parts of asia. "new world" definitely implies the americas.

Insipired by this I went to look for the origins of "third world" which is not what I thought. Nowadays we tend to see it as "developing nation".
Jul. 21st, 2011 01:20 pm (UTC)
I think I see 'Old World' basically as 'parts of the world that were known about by European people in the ancient world', so it includes North Africa as well as all of Europe, and much of Asia. The stuff shown on maps like this one basically.

'New World', I see as just the Americas and Oceania.

I'm not sure where the rest of Asia and Africa stand. I don't think I see them either as New World or as Old World.
Jul. 21st, 2011 01:23 pm (UTC)
I think your definition of old world is probably better and more in keeping with common use than mine so I shall change. :-)
Jul. 21st, 2011 02:25 pm (UTC)
Of course, being from Northern America, I'm not about to say we're not first world countries.

But also the converse: usage of "old world" in American context seems to include places like Albania (being the place a lot of people come from 'round here), and I leave it up to The Audience to determine whether the eastern European countries count as First World.

(What I learned when the Cold War was still raging was that the Soviet-Bloc countries were Second World, which is why we mostly talk First and Third.)
Jul. 21st, 2011 03:37 pm (UTC)
It seems to me that what we have here is the conflation of (at least) two different taxonomies by people who have grown up in a world where both taxonomies already were in such common use that their origins were shrouded from the causal user. Add to that the fact the First/Second/Third taxonomy has morphed into something else, with "Third World" now being used synonymomously with "Developing Nations". All complicated by the fact that I don't recall hearing anyone use "Second World" in relatively casual conversation - not even even growing up during the later years of the Cold War... though other people's mileage may vary! I grew in a University town among politically active and aware people though, so if "Second World" had been in common conversational use in 1970s-1980s US culture I'd have thought I'd have noticed ;-)

For myself, I've always been clear that Old / New were from one taxonomy, and First and Third from another... though teasing out exactly what I parse as Third World (or what I assumed Second World would apply to if I thought about it - which I'm pretty sure I did in the past at some point) is turning out to be a bit complicated! ;-)
Jul. 21st, 2011 03:53 pm (UTC)
and it seems in not including my attempts to tease out the details of Old / New vs First / (Second) / Third for me I lost one detial of that that I think is important...

which is that my definition of the Old World / New World is pretty close to what the_alchemist mentions, but with the added element of what on I've seen used for the taxonomy of animals (Old World Apes vs. New World Apes)
Old World : Europe / Africa / Asia
New World : Americas and Oceania

and when I think without over thinking about whether countires are First or Third World, I do find that former Soviet bloc countries, no matter how grim things might have become in them, don't automatically group into "Third World". I expect partly on the basis that to me "First World" tends to mean "Industrialized" but also I suspect due to the fact that when I was forming my unconcious categorizations of those countries they would have been "Second World", so no-one would have called them either "first" or "third" world - even if I never heard anyone call them explicitly "second" world...
Jul. 21st, 2011 03:54 pm (UTC)
p.s. I appear to type attrociously
Jul. 22nd, 2011 11:27 am (UTC)
Of course, it does depend on what "New World" you're talking about - New World wines include South Africa, which is Old World for about everything else!
Jul. 23rd, 2011 12:18 am (UTC)
I was wondering when/if someone would mention the complications of wine in this case! (Thank you.)
Jul. 21st, 2011 03:53 pm (UTC)
I have never used the phrase "First World", and never will... so I could not answer your poll!
Jul. 21st, 2011 04:14 pm (UTC)
I'm still amused that 'New World' is used. I want to claim Dream World for Australia and New Zealand and set us up as a tourist attraction (wait, we already are!).
Jul. 21st, 2011 07:38 pm (UTC)
We'll have to rethink all of this terminology when we get around to colonising Mars.
Jul. 21st, 2011 08:42 pm (UTC)
I really need to get out more and comment on the internet less.... All I can say is, historian brain!
Jul. 21st, 2011 10:17 pm (UTC)
It made me really, really curious!
Jul. 22nd, 2011 10:00 pm (UTC)
Option 2 most closely reflects my view, but in actual fact, I never use 'first world' in conversation or writing. Equally, 'second world' has fallen out of use generally, and 'third world' is often considered a bit demeaning these days.

My geography teachers generally preferred 'industrialised countries' and 'less developed countries' as the two main descriptives (now presumably joined by 'post-industrial countries' for the UK and some other places). I'm generally most comfortable with those terms, too.
Jul. 23rd, 2011 05:39 am (UTC)
Aye, what he said, but I have used it occasionally in conversation just to get across a demographic concept.
Jul. 23rd, 2011 08:37 pm (UTC)
I confess I wasn't sure which box (of two - I am from Europe, or an island off Europe) to tick, but clearly these terms are all ideologically loaded, and I'd try to avoid using any of them: old/new clearly Eurocentric (with larges swathes of Asia presumably Old World) and First/Second/Third (I wasn't clear where second was, tjought it was a bit like British Rail) offers a hierarchy that developed and developing and subsistence doesn't do much to dispel.

Rich north, poor south. Conveniently moving most of Australia and New Zealand.
( 27 comments — Leave a comment )