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Global North/South distinction adequate to describe relation between geography and human development

The terms Global North and Global South have become increasingly popular terms to categorize countries and have also been used by us. Dimiter Toshkov has recently suggested that the Global North/South distinction is descriptively inaccurate, wrongly supposes a sense of homogeneity among these groups, and implies a geographic determinism that is wrong and demotivational. Based on the United Nations’ Human Development Index, he concludes that there is no linear relationship between geographic latitude and human development. When ‘distance from the equator’ rather than absolute latitude is taken as a benchmark, the relationship between human development and geographic position becomes stronger, but there still remains ‘important heterogeneity within the South/close to the equator and North/far from the equator countries’. Unfortunately, Toshkov does not give us new shorthand alternatives and the following suggestion, while accurate and precise, is also cumbersome:

Be specific about what the term is referring to, and be concrete about the set of countries that is covered. If you mean the 20 poorest countries in the world, say the 20 poorest countries in the world, not countries of the Global South. If you mean technologically underdeveloped countries, say that and not countries of the Third World. If you mean rich, former colonial powers from Western Europe, say that and not the Global North. It takes a few more words, but it is more accurate and less misleading.

Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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