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"First World Problems" and Third World shadows -- Where does it come from anyway?

I admit that whenever I see someone use the term First World Problems or describe a damaged or neglected area in the United States as “like a Third World country,” it makes me twitch.  The phrases are used as a ranking system, often without context of the original meanings of First or Third World, with a subtext based on stereotyped images of wealth, poverty, and development: “This is a problem that someone in a poor country couldn’t possibly have,” or “This disaster area is so damaged that it’s like living in an undeveloped country.” 

Then someone referred to the area in which they teach in the US as akin to a third world country and I thought I ought to post something.

Instead of going the social justice route more bluntly on this one, I thought I’d try doing so by satisfying intellectual curiosity instead.  This page explains the origin of the First (and Second!) and Third (and Fourth!) Worlds in the original model, touches on modern use, and offers links to further exploration of things like wealth and development around the world.

Filed under education first world third world

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