The notion of development is tied to our definitions of the Third World, in part popularized by the writings of Frantz Fanon. The common features of the Third World are:
- it is not as economically developed as the First World (Western capitalist societies); in particular GDP per capita is significantly lower.
- its political/economic systems are a mix of socialism and capitalism; in particular, democracy is not well-entrenched.
- its culture is different from that of the First and Second World (the Second World are developed socialist cultures such as the now-defunct Soviet Union and China)
- its populations are racially diverse; in particular non-European ethnic groups tend to dominate, unlike in the First World.
Although endism argues that the fall of communism made the Third World an irrelevant concept, many political thinkers, including Tongun, oppose this idea. They argue that the division between developed, undeveloped, and underdeveloped country is still a very important social, political, and cultural distinction. So what do these terms mean?
"Development" is probably the most contested term in this whole discussion. The idea of development was invented after World War II to replace the idea of "progress" that had previously guided Western imperialism and colonialism. "Progress" stemmed from the ideas of the Enlightenment, which valued science and rational thought. The cataclysmic conclusion of World War II with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki created doubt as to the inherent goodness of science and progress, and the Holocaust served to further chip away at the Eurocentric ideals of Western culture. Development was the centerpiece of the ideology that replaced the one centered on the goal of "progress." In his inaugural address, U.S. President Harry S Truman emphasized the notion of two worlds --- the developed and the undeveloped—saying that it was the responsibility of the first to see to the development of the latter. Not that different from the white man's burden, really, but it was important to have moved on from the idea of progress. Europe was devastated in the war's aftermath, the USSR had suffered 20 million deaths, and the U.S. was taking its role as world leader very seriously indeed.
Note that development is defined in terms of First World goals. Also keep in mind the difference between underdevelopment, the state of being at the bottom of the capitalist world order, and undevelopment, existence free from capitalist interference. In much of the Third World, Western imperialism, colonization and colonialism replaced undevelopment with underdevelopment, leaving colonized natives in what Tongun termed a Third World "state of mind": oppression, exploitation, being conditioned to think of the self as inferior to Westerners (see colonial mentality). In our postcolonial era, undeveloped and underdeveloped nations are lumped together under the label the "developing" world (some great writeups there; go check 'em out!) and so most people equate the two without stopping to think of this subtle distinction.
based on my notes on a February 2, 2000 guest lecture by Lako Tongun, professor of political studies at Pitzer College, speaking to Professor Isabel Balseiro's Third Cinema class at Harvey Mudd College.