Monikers aka Generalisations

Frustrated by Intricacies

An article in The Economist raised a rather interesting but oft-neglected problem: the proliferation of labels and categories where countries are haphazardly shuffled in, without consideration for historical or geographical accuracy. I first encountered this in JC Geography, when we were taught to evaluate (it’s amazing though that we have to be taught how to evaluate, but this is the A-levels for you) the tendency of geographers to pigeon-hole countries into monikers like the North and the South or Third World, Second World and First World, which can be highly inaccurate and neglects discrepancies or outliers. In the topic of Globalisation, we were taught that to divide the world into a simplistic North-South divide would be to forget about what it really means to be geographically in the Northern hemisphere or Southern hemisphere. Developed countries like Australia and Singapore, for instance, would be technically south of what is in the North in the divide but that does not mean these countries are economically comparable to other countries in the South.

Pardon if what I just described to you sounds confusing, but you will get a better idea if you read The Economist article, which gives many more examples of blatant generalisations in history and geography. Even labels we consider absolutely normal or acceptable might hint of insensitivities. We often refer to South America as Latin America, but this term smacks of colonialism, and the continent while still speaking mainly Spanish and Portugese is certainly wielding its own influence rather than continue to be within the Latin or European sphere of influence.

These labels are certainly convenient, but we should never forget that they must be questioned every now and then to check their relevance. Like, even the oft-used ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries could be questioned in terms of the spheres they cover and how to categorise countries. For instance, would Singapore be a ‘developed’ or ‘developing’ country? And based on what indicators?

Something for the GP (General Paper) and Geography student to think about.


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