When Alfred Sauvy coined the term "Third World", it contained an implicit value judgement about the conditions of life in various countries of the world: As the Cold War progressed, it came clear that some countries in the Third World were better off than others -- while some countries had some form of social order (some democratic, others brutal and repressive), others were in a state of anarchy where human life had no value. Some countries had something to steal, some form of economic activity the industrialized world could exploit, but others were continual economic basket cases, in a constant state of civil war and famine. While some Third World countries were politically engaged with each other, and the industralized world, others had spun so far out of control there was no-one to engage with.

And now, there is a cruel, horrible fact to be faced: For some, the status of 'third world country' has a certain political cachet, a source of political motivation (witness the Non-Aligned Movement and OPEC). Other countries have so many problems, and their people have to spend so much of their time simply trying to survive, that it doesn't really matter.

In the 1980's and 1990's people began using the term "Fourth World" to refer to the poorest of the poor. Of course, we know how most of them got that way: I'm sure all of you can think of other countries for which some or all of the above conditions apply, but which have not yet fallen into the abyss, and others which seem to be climbing out.

In the end, does the distinction really matter? Probably not. The idea that some Third World countries are somehow 'more fortunate' than others, that they enjoy some miniscule relative measure of happiness, should not distract us from how they got that way, or what should be done.
The definition of Fourth world that I am familar with is not "the worse half of the third world".

The term Fourth world refers to nations that are not on the map: "internationally unrecognized nations". Peoples who still live, but their state has been submerged in another country. Or in many cases, the lines on the map divide an ethnic region into two or more "nationalities".

By that definition, areas such as Basque, Somalialand, Kurdistan are all fourth world. So are native American tribes. So are Wales and Scotland, though relatively developed and prosperous parts of first-world nations are not typical examples.

National boundaries are generally more recent and more arbitrary in the Third World.

The fourth world can be "the worse half of the third world" as ethnic minories are often neglected or opressed in the third world. Or in cases such as the Basques and Kurds, their desire for an ethnic homeland brings them into conflict with the existing states.

see http://www.cwis.org/fourthw.html

I encountered the term in the book "You Shall Know Our Velocity" by Dave Eggers. I give this book my highest possible recommendation, for what it's worth. I'll frame this writeup so that I can explain the term without giving anything away from the novel. Personally, I think that if I did summarise the scene from the book, it wouldn't detract from reading it at all, but some may feel differently.

The Fourth world, put simply, is the world of transience. This is akin, but not identical, to "Ukiyo" - 浮世 the "Floating World" in the sense that Ukiyo is detached from the ordinary cares of life, and is a twilight world. Ukiyo does not carry the connotation of travel or movement that Eggers imputes in his term, however.

When we are travelling, we are not of the place we find ourselves in, and we are said to be in "the Fourth World". Before I encountered this idea, I had begun a notebook that I only record in when I'm on a plane, train, boat, or automobile, or feel myself in transit. Over the years I've built up a strong sense of the change in state when I am moving more lightly and quickly on the planet, a fleetingness.

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