Postcolonialism is important for the entire world in that it represents the ongoing efforts of formerly colonized people to understand the global processes that led to imperialism and then brought about its disintegration. Many postcolonial writers reject the Third World label as biased and demeaning, in part because it privileges technology, undervalues culture, and depoliticizes economic development. The increasing of the term “third world” coincides with the development of postcolonial theorizing. After World War Two, political and economic theories developed a rough classification system that marked each country by its level of development. The most industrialized countries, which often had the highest gross domestic product and standards of living, were termed First World; these included the United States. Those that were likely to become significant industrial powers were the Second World.
There was ongoing debate about whether the rest of the world—the majority of countries—should be lumped into the Third World, or whether an additional Fourth World designation was also required for countries with virtually no industrialization and widespread poverty. However, people who lived in those areas—primarily Africa, Latin America, and most of Asia—often rejected the terms as fundamentally racist, noting that they perpetuated the othering of “non-Western” peoples and supported the kinds of inequalities that had enabled imperialism. From the 1990s on, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the usefulness of such designations has increasingly been challenged. Postcolonialism developed as a crucial part of the ongoing effort to deconstruct facile divisions between the “West and the rest” that rest on the assumption of white European superiority.