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Society for Comparative Studies in Society and History

The Three Worlds, or the Division of Social Scientific Labor, Circa 1950-1975
Author(s): Carl E. Pletsch
Source: Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 23, No. 4 (Oct., 1981), pp. 565-590
Published by: Cambridge University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/178394
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The Three Worlds, or the Division of


Social Scientific Labor, circa
1950-1975
CARL E. PLETSCH
Universityof North Carolina at Chapel Hill

II faut avant tout dresserle catalogue le plus grandpossible de cat6gories;il faut partir
de toutes celles dont on peut savoir que les hommes se sont servis. On verraalors qu'il
y a eu et qu'il a encore bien des lunes mortes, ou pales, ou obscures, au firmamentde
la raison.
Marcel Mauss
I INTRODUCTION:

AN INSTANCE

OF PRIMITIVE

CLASSIFICATION

Our ideas of tradition, culture, and ideology found their places in the social
scientific discourse of the 1950s and 1960s as part of modernizationtheory.
This supposed theory was heir to ancient occidental habits of mythological
thinkingabout history, as is well known.1But the reorientationof these ideas
in the postwaryears was guided more specifically by the novel division of the
globe into three conceptual "worlds" in response to the Cold War. This
particularscheme of dividing the world into three also had profoundconsequences for the allocation of social scientific labor throughoutthe 1950s and
1960s, and continues to do so in some degree even in 1981. It is an extremely
rudimentarysystem of classification, however, and certainly not a naturalor
necessary one. With the possible exception of the political categories of left
and right, the scheme of three worlds is perhapsthe most primitivesystem of
classificationin our social scientific discourse. One wondersnow how it could
have assumed such authority.
In a fascinating chapter in his study of America, Alexis de Tocqueville
noted that "the Diety does not regard the human race collectively," but
"surveys at one glance and severally all the beings of whom mankind is
composed; and he discerns in each man the resemblances that assimilate him
to all his fellows, and the differences that distinguish him from them." By
An earlier version of this paper was delivered at the meetings of the American Historical Association, December 1979, and at the Toronto Semiotic Circle in March 1980. Special thanks to my
friends Jon Anderson, Richard Eaton, and Gertrude Lenzer for their comments on that draft.
'For a general survey and critique of Western teleological views of history, sensitive to the
fact that modernization theory is one of them, see Robert Nisbet, Social Change and History
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1969).
0010-4175/81/4305-1310
$2.00 ( 1981 Society for Comparative Study of Society and History

565

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566

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contrast, men are forced to rely upon categories of thought which enable them
to group together superficially similar individuals, call them by a common
name, and treat them alike. These categories he calls "general ideas," and
notes that they are "no proof of the strength, but rather of the insufficiency of
the human intellect."
It seemed to de Tocqueville that democratic nations have a greater propensity for general ideas than do aristocratic ones. For when men abandoned
the "natural" categories of the prerevolutionary ancien regime, they were left
to reinvent the world, as it were, and the language for describing it, in each
new generation. In his words,
When I repudiatethe traditionsof rank, professions, and birth, when I escape from the
authorityof example to seek out, by the single effort of my reason, the path to be
followed, I am inclined to derive the motives of my opinions from humannatureitself,
and this leads me necessarily, and almost unconsciously, to adopt a great numberof
very general notions.
But it is not merely the lack of natural categories of rank and birth that leads
the citizens of democratic nations to their addiction to general ideas, but also
the peculiar way in which their traffic in ideas is conducted. As early as 1830
de Tocqueville could see that capitalism would debilitate public discourse
about every serious matter. Ideas and information about the social world were
already becoming consumer commodities. The conclusion of this chapter is
worth quoting in its entirety, for I believe that de Tocqueville's is a most
prescient diagnosis of this characteristic of our thinking that infects our studies
of the socialist societies of, for example, Eastern Europe, to such a degree that
they become almost pure fantasies.
One of the distinguishingcharacteristicsof a democraticperiod is the taste thatall men
then have for easy success and present enjoyment. This occurs in the pursuitsof the
intellect as well as in all others. Most of those who live in a time of equality are full of
an ambitionequally alert and indolent:they want to obtain great success immediately,
but they would preferto avoid greateffort. These conflicting tendencieslead straightto
the search for general ideas, by the aid of which they flatterthemselves that they can
delineate vast objects with little pains and draw the attentionof the public without
much trouble. And I do not know that they are wrong in thinkingso. For theirreaders
are as much averse to investigating anything to the bottom as they are; and what is
generally sought in the products of mind is easy pleasure and informationwithout
labor. If aristocraticnationsdo not make sufficientuse of general ideas, and frequently
treatthem with inconsideratedisdain, it is true, on the other hand, that a democratic
people is always ready to carry ideas of this kind to excess and to espouse them with
injudicious warmth.
De Tocqueville did not use the word "capitalism," to be sure, but his
explanation of the power of general ideas is clearly a proto-Marxist one. He
suggests that when ideas become consumer commodities, thorough analysis is
nearly impossible, and that the simplistic analyses that are undertaken are
governed by the interests and the prejudices of the consumers thereof. The

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THE

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application to communism research, to take the same example, is easy to see:


Since 1945 the interests and prejudices of government and general public alike
have been to define Western civilization in simplistic opposition to the Soviet
Union and other socialist societies. And these interests have been well served
by the division of the globe into three conceptual worlds.
We have few if any ideas or social categories more general than the
taxonomic idea of three worlds that we use to divide up the globe and its
inhabitants for study in various ways by the various categories of social
scientists. Even our strange taxonomy of social sciences-the belief that there
exist such distinguishable things as politics, economics, and society, and that
there should be a separate group of social scientists to study each-has been
subordinated in the last three decades to the idea of three worlds. And few
general ideas have been espoused with such (injudicious?) warmth by the
democratic peoples of the capitalist world. Thus de Tocqueville has provided
us with a very advantageous perspective on the way in which we have organized social scientific labor.2
II THE

GENESIS

OF THE

THREE

WORLDS

CONCEPT

To do justice to this particular complex of general ideas, we must first view it


in the context in which it arose, that of academic studies of foreign areas. The
concept first appeared with the term "third world" or tiers monde, which was
used, of course, to refer to the "underdeveloped" countries as a group. But,
as we shall see, even the original use of the term and the very concern it
expressed arose from Western anxiety about the emergence of a "second"
world of socialist nations in Eastern Europe. The Soviet Union was a prior
concern that governed Western thinking about the underdeveloped world from
the start.
Scholarly research on the socialist societies of Eastern Europe did not begin
in earnest until thirty years after the Bolshevik revolution; and when it did
emerge, it was as a part of a relatively new type of organized scholarship,
promoted by government agencies, particularly the diplomatic, military, and
intelligence services. The people who visited the Soviet Union before World
War II were diplomats, journalists, private scholars, and a smattering of
socialists, none of which groups constituted, separately or together, a true
community of investigators.3 During the war itself some research work was
done, but not published, on the military potential of the Soviet Union as an
ally, but those studies had an extremely short range and exclusively practical
ends in view. Only when the Nazi threat receded and the Western military,
2
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Henry Reeve, trans. and ed. (revised by
Francis Bowen, and further corrected by Phillips Bradley) (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.,
1945), II, 14-18.
3 For an exhaustive account of the American discourse at
least, see Peter G. Filene, Americans
and the Soviet Experiment, 1917-1933 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1967).

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diplomatic, and intelligence services began to fantasizetheir next assignments


did the Soviet Union loom as a prime candidatefor academic research. The
victorious Soviet armies had occupied an enormous new area of influence at
the end of the war, and this was almost universallyunderstoodas a provocation of her Westernallies. But thus provoked, the Westerngovernmentswere
also confrontedwith their own ignoranceof the Soviet Union and its style of
hegemony. The USSR was not the only candidatefor research,of course. The
presumedimperialambitionsof the Soviet Union, togetherwith the prospect
of decolonization and the transferof responsibility for much of the former
British Empire to the United States, led to the creation of other academic
specialities. All the branches of area studies-not merely communism
research-were sketched in the minds of the leaders of the Western intelligence communitiesat the end of WorldWarII. And subsequentlyresearchon
the Soviet Union and other EasternEuropeansocialist societies came to be
financed by the same governmentagencies and foundationsthat would also
supportthe severalotherbranchesof areastudies, e.g., AfricanStudies, Latin
American Studies, South Asian Studies, and so forth.4
Only conceptuallywas communismresearchmarkedoff from the otherarea
studies. This distinction was the work of the three worlds scheme, which
emerged simultaneously with communism research, area studies, and government contract social science. Needless to say, all these developments
coincided with the emergenceof the policy of containmentandthe outbreakof
the Cold War. All of these developmentsstand in intimatestructuralrelation.
One could begin the analysis of this relationshipat any point in the structure.
As a linguistic phenomenon,however, the genesis of the term "thirdworld"
offers the straightestavenue into the meaning and significance of this structure.
Genetically, the three worlds scheme emerged with the appearanceof the
term, perhaps first in France. In his book, The Discovery of the Third World,

Ignacy Sachs suggests that the term originatedaround 1955.5 Georges Balandier, a French anthropologistof Africa who published extensively on problems of developmentin the 1950s, is said to have takencreditfor its creation.6
4 The difference that the Cold War made in area studies can be calculated
by comparing Robert

Hall, Area Studies with Special Reference to Their Application for Research in the Social
Sciences (New York: Social Science Research Council, 1947), and Wendell Bennett, Area
Studies in American Universities (New York: Social Science Research Council, 1951), with more
recent surveys like Richard D. Lambert, Language and Area Studies Review (Philadelphia:
American Academy of Political and Social Science, 1973), sponsored by the Social Science
Research Council.
5 The Discovery of the Third World (Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press,
1976); see also Sidney Mintz, "On the Concept of a Third World," Dialectical Anthropology,
1:4 (1976), 377-82.
6 A
personal communication from Alessandro Pizzorno. I have not found Balandier using the
term prior to his contribution to Le "tiers monde" (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France,
1956). A look at Balandier's Sociologie actuelle de I'Afrique noire (Paris: Presses Universitaires
de France, 1955) seems to indicate that he was using the concept without the name in 1953-54.

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Hoyt Purvis has written a fairly exhaustive discussion of the early usage of the
term in French and English and credits the French demographer Alfred Sauvy
with having invented it, using it first in an article published in L'Observateur
of 14 August 1952.7 I have found an even earlier (but apparently not seminal)
use of the term in English by Robert Redfield in a 1951 article on "World
Government as Seen by a Social Scientist."8 Of course identification of the
first use of the term is quite unimportant, but the very difficulty of assigning
the credit for inventing it illustrates something significant: A great variety of
social scientists and even journalists from several different nations, diverse
ideological perspectives, and academic disciplines suddenly found the idea of
a third world useful for organizing their thinking about the international order
that had emerged from the settlements (and unsettlements) attending the conclusion of World War II. And understanding the new order, they could place
the significanc of their own particular research in the grand enterprise of
understanding social phenomena in general. It seems to have been one of
those terms that arises spontaneously to fill a conceptual void.9
Alfred Sauvy's early use of the term tiers monde in L'Observateur and his
later comments on its significance are quite revealing. Sauvy was not only
particularly articulate in his usage and explication. Since his first article
makes it very clear that his own interests as a social scientist-he was a
demographer-were involved, his use of "tiers monde" also illustrates how
the new term could make sense of the activities of particular social scientists.
What makes his early use of the term still more interesting is that, even though
he was one of its inventors and found it useful for thinking, he was extremely
critical of the world situation to which he applied it.
In 1952, in an article entitled 'Three Worlds, One Planet," Sauvy wrote
that "we speak readily of two worlds in confrontation, of their possible war,
of their coexistence, etc., forgetting all too often that there is a third-the
most important and, in fact, the first world in the chronological sense." He
suggested that the third world was the very raison d'etre of the Cold War.
'What interests each of the two [developed] worlds, is to conquer the third, or
at least to have it on its side. And from that proceed all the troubles of
coexistence." Without explaining precisely why both were interested in having the countries of the third world on their side, he suggested that the two
opposing blocs of communist and capitalist countries needed each other. For
7
Hoyt Purvis, The Third Worldand InternationalSymbolism, WorkingPaperno. 5, Lyndon
B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, Universityof Texas at Austin (1976), especially pp. 7-8.
8 Federalist Opinion, 1:8 (June 1951), 15.
9On the general phenomenonof terms of social scientific discourse devised since 1950, see
Ithiel de Sola Pool, 'The Languageof Politics: GeneralTrendsin Content," in Propagandaand
Communicationin WorldHistory, HaroldLasswell, Daniel Lerner,and Hans Speier, eds. (Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, 1980), III, 171-90. De Sola Pool is unfortunatelyinterested
only in the quantityof new terminology, not the relative importanceof the differentterms, and in
their frequency of use, not their meaning or significance.

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all their ideological differences, they had a great deal in common. They had
the same interest in military power and only minimal interest in the real
problems of the third world.
Preparationfor warbeing the first concern(souci n 1) [of the governmentsof East and
West], secondarycares such as the hungerof the worldmay only occupy theirattention
to the degree sufficient to avoid an explosion, or, more precisely, to avoid compromising the first objective.
Extremely critical of the cynicism he ascribed to the Cold War leaders of both
the Soviet bloc and the capitalist democracies,10 Sauvy explained that they
were not only preventing anything serious from being done about the problems of the third world, but they had even arrested the gradual social evolution
of European and American societies. The monies and energies spent on defense obviously could not be used for schools or other social projects. About
at domination and
the American leaders of the Western camp-neophytes
mystic believers in free enterprise for its own sake, he called them-he had
only very modest hopes.
Sauvy proposed that we adopt the point of view of the captains (gros de
troupe) of the third world who could see two forward positions (avant-gardes)
out ahead of them-communist and democratic capitalist. Which path should
they follow? Sauvy assumed, we may note, that the leaders of the third world
had to choose to follow one of the two. They had to modernize in one of these
two modes. As a demographer he was painfully aware that they had already
begun to modernize in a limited but disastrous sense. He wrote that "those
countries have our mortality rates of 1914 and our birth rates of the 18th
century." The underdeveloped countries of the third world had entered upon a
path of modernization determined by the most easily acquired features of
moder civilization. Insecticides and basic medicines were cheap. It had cost
a mere 68 francs per person, Sauvy calculated, to alter permanently the
demographic balance in the world and create indescribable misery and
hunger. The remedies would be far dearer, but neither the first nor the second
world had much more than 68 francs per person to spare to resolve these new
problems of the third world, locked as they were in a military contest that
consumed all their resources. Under these circumstances, Sauvy noted with
foreboding, "the underdeveloped countries of the feudal type can pass much
more easily to communist regimes than to democratic capitalism."
What would be the outcome? Sauvy was somewhat pessimistic, as befits a
third world demographer and latter-day scion of the dismal science, but the
terms of his foreboding are illuminating. The pressure of population was
10 However one refers to the differences between what might also be called "east" and
"west," one betraysone's biases and assumptions.When writing in my own voice, I preferthe
terms "the Soviet bloc" and "the capitalistdemocracies" not only for their greaterconcreteness
and direct referentialvalue, but also because they reveal my assumptionsimmediately.

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building, he wrote, to the point where the vacationers on the C6te d'Azur
could fairly hear the cries of misery emanating from the shores of North
Africa. There existed one "sovereign remedy" for the situation: war. It
appears-Sauvy is not explicit on this-that he thought the preparations for
war being made in East and West would find their expression in wars fought
in the third world. This might suit the leaders of the first two worlds well, for
they could wage their wars on foreign terrain and reduce the population of the
third world simultaneously. This grisly vision was, to a degree, prophetic. But
Sauvy phrased his longer-range forecast in the terms of an earlier and more
optimistic discussion of the clash of interests of three worlds, the Abbe
Sieyes's tract, What is the Third Estate?11 Perhaps, Sauvy mused, the first
world would awaken to a sense of human solidarity and "not remain insensible to the slow and irresistible thrust, humble and ferocious, [in the third
world] towards life. Because that third world, ignored, exploited, despised
like the Third Estate, it too wants to be something."
Sauvy's vision was necessarily idiosyncratic in some ways. Other social
scientists who came to use the term tiers monde were much less clearly
partisans of that part of the world's population, although many shared Sauvy's
interest in the fundamental unity of the globe. And few who were not socialists were so disaffected from the policy of containment and the military
and economic attempts to counter Soviet expansionism; most felt that anything
else would have been appeasement. But Sauvy was representative in his
assumption that the countries of the third world must inevitably modernize. It
is now fashionable to ridicule modernization theory,12 but in the 1950s and
1960s nearly everyone was affected by it. And if the truth were known, it
would be clear that very few social scientists have found real alternatives to
modernization theory even now. As we shall see, modernization theory is
almost inextricable from the idea of three worlds. Sauvy was also representative of bourgeois social scientists in his reluctance to analyze the motives and
sources of the exploitation of the third world by the modem nations of the first
and second worlds. In his outrage and his hope that moral sympathy with third
world nations would persuade the capitalist nations of the first world to divert
from their defense budgets some funds for feeding the peoples of the third
" Joseph EmmanuelSiey&s,Qu'est-ce que le tiers etat? (Paris:n.p., 1789), 3: "What is the
ThirdEstate?Everything.What has it been hithertoin the political order?Nothing. Whatdoes it
ask? To become something." Sauvy clearly thought that one might substituteThird World for
Third Estate in these powerful sentences.
12 This has become fashionable only since the publication of Dean Tipps's "Modernization
Theory and the ComparativeStudy of Societies: A CriticalPerspective," ComparativeStudies in
Society and History, 15:2 (1973), 199-226. It must be remembered,however, that even though
ridiculing modernizationtheory has been popularfor several years now, certainly no alternative
has replaced it, and its old popularizershave not abandonedit either. In view of the fact that no
generally acceptable alternativehas emerged, the burgeoningliteratureattackingmodernization
theory poses itself as an interestingsubject of research in its own right. In this paper, unfortunately, I have not room even to list the relevant authors, much less analyze the genre.

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world, he was naively reminiscentof J. A. Hobson.'3And finally, in his effort


to infuse his own field of demographywith new urgency and importance,
Sauvy was also representativeof countless Westernsocial scientists who used
the three worlds concept to sell their services to precisely those Western
governmentspursuingpolicies of containment.
I emphaticallydo not mean to suggest that Sauvy or others like him sold
out. In later works on population, Sauvy continuedto maintainthat the Cold
War mentality frustratedevery solution to the problem of overpopulationin
the third world.'4 He believed that solutions could be discovered only by
scientific investigationconducted by relatively detached observers like himself. But he also believed that the capitalist nations of the first world were
more likely to promote such scientific solutions than were the nations of the
Soviet bloc. Withthese convictions Sauvy's actions were perfectlyconsistent.
Sauvy and othersof like mindcontinuedto believe thattheirconstituencywas
the population of the third world and that their professional work as social
scientists would ultimately benefit that world. The charge that such men as
Sauvy, Balandier,and Redfield were co-opted by the first world governments
is simply not plausible. We must ratherask ourselves how the very thoughtof
three worlds on one planet constrainedeven those who were opponentsof the
Cold War or partisansof the third world to do work that contributedboth to
the strategies of containmentand to the exploitationof the third world.
To answer this question we must go beyond individual investigatorslike
Alfred Sauvy, and even beyond the realm of internationalrealpolitik, containment, and the Cold War. The way in which the concept of three worlds
helps us organize our thinking about the competition between the capitalist
and communist blocs is self-evident. And I hope that I have suggested how
Sauvy located his own professionalactivity in the intersticesof this scheme.
This takes us but a short way, however. Sauvy was not simply employed by a
cynical and exploitative government to study the population of the third
world-he tried to make himself a spokesmanfor the thirdworld's problems.
In that respect he was typical of many of the social scientists who dedicated
themselves to the study of the societies of the third world. How do such
general paradoxes arise? This is not a question that can be answered by
examining individual social scientists, no matterhow many or how typical
they may be. The focus mustratherbe on how the three worlds scheme served
13 J. A. Hobson,
Imperialism,a Study (London:JamesNisbet, 1902). Hobson's repudiationof
imperialismas it was practicedin the late nineteenthcenturyrested on his belief that the practice
was economically unprofitable,and a conviction that some otherand principallyethical intervention in the non-Europeanworld was necessary.
14 See the contributionsof
Sauvy in Institut national d'etudes demographiques,Le "tiersMonde," sous-dcveloppmentet developpement(Paris: Presses Universitairesde France, 1956);
the 1961 edition of the same work with new introductionby Sauvy; and his books De Malthusa
Mao Tse-Toung (Paris: Deno, 1958) and Theorie generale de la population (Paris: Presses
Universitairesde France, 1966).

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THE THREE WORLDS AND THE SOCIAL SCIENCES

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to organizethe work of the whole communityof Westernsocial scientists and


to relate the work of each to that of every other.
III THE DEEP-STRUCTURE

OF THE THREE WORLDS CONCEPT

Ultimately we want to be able to describe a relationshipwhich is structural


ratherthan genetic, and one which exists among social scientists ratherthan
among the three worlds themselves. In orderto get at that structuralrelationship, however, we must take still anotherpreliminarytack and delve into the
assumptionslying beneaththe surfaceof the conceptualdistinctionamong the
three worlds.
On the surface, as we have seen, the division of the planetinto threeworlds
is merely a descriptionof the internationalrivalrybetween the allied capitalist
nations on the one hand, and the Soviet bloc on the other. On this level, the
third world is no more than a residual category of unaligned objects of the
competing imperialistic policies of the first two worlds. Of course it does
serve to grouptogetherconceptuallythose nationsand societies that could not
be included in either the emerging Soviet bloc or the Western European/
Americanbloc of capitalistnations bound togetherby NATO and the various
mutualeconomic assistancepacts beginning with the MarshallPlan. Then too
the Bandungconference and the rhetoricused there gave a certainplausibility
to the idea that the societies falling outside of the two opposed blocs of
capitalist and socialist nations had some importantthings in common. The
American policy of containmentdrew the lines of demarcationeven more
clearly. But all of this common knowledge only illuminates the relatively
superficial phenomenon of the emergence of a vague identity for the unaligned nations.15It says nothing about the genuinely metaphysicalassumptions underlyingthat identity and the three worlds idea generally.
One barely has to look beneath this surface of supposed realpolitik, however, to see that the division of the planet into three worlds is based on a pair
of very abstractand hardly precise binary distinctions. First the world has
been divided into its "traditional" and "modem" parts. Then the modem
portion has been subdivided into its "communist" (or "socialist") and
"free" parts. These four terms underlyingthe idea of three worlds may be
thoughtof as an extremely general social semantics.16They are terms which
1' This is perhapsmore illustrativeof the fact thatthe peoples of the thirdworld are dependent
upon the first world even for the categories in which they organize to defend themselves from
exploitation than it is significant of any truth-value that the concept of the third world might
possess. For an interestingcase study (in brief) of such conceptualdependence, see EdwardW.
Said, "Islam throughWestern Eyes," The Nation (26 April 1980), 488-92.
16 This
pair of binary distinctions that yields three social categories is not unlike the pair of
distinctions underlyingthe idea of three estates common in Europeansocial discourse until the
eighteenthcentury. By dividing the world into sacred and profane and noble and common, one
can derive the first estate of the clergy (sacred), the second estate of the nobility (profane but
noble), and the residualthirdestate of the commoners.This obviously reinforcesthe relevanceof

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derive their meanings from their mutual opposition rather than from any
inherentrelationshipto the things described. They have very complex connotations and we do not always or even usually use these terms in actual discourse. The traditionalworld is more often the third world or the underdeveloped world, for example. But makingexplicit the concept of traditionthat
underlies these other terms permits us to tease out all the other implications
containedin the idea of the thirdworld and locate them in a structuralrelationship with the implicationsof the otherworlds. The thirdworld is the world of
tradition, culture, religion, irrationality,underdevelopment,overpopulation,
political chaos, and so on. The second world is modem, technologically
sophisticated, rationalto a degree, but authoritarian(or totalitarian)and repressive, and ultimately inefficient and impoverishedby contaminationwith
ideological preconceptionsand burdenedwith an ideologically motivatedsocialist elite. The first world is purely modem, a haven of science and utilitarian decision making, technological, efficient, democratic, free-in short, a
natural17society unfetteredby religion or ideology.
Objectionsof many sorts can be made to these underlyingdistinctionsthat
act as semanticoppositions(and objectionshave been made in the critiquesof
modernizationtheory). But the first thing we should note is the astonishing
simple-mindednessof the scheme. As Alfred Sauvy himself noted in respect
to the term "underdevelopment,"
Peoplehave spoken,at varioustimes,of barbarians,
infidels,savages,natives,coloured men, etc., and less pejoratively, of countries with different cultures. ... In

Sauvy's associationof the thirdworldwith the thirdestate. On the social vocabularyof the ancien
regime in termsof estates, see William H. Sewell, Jr. "Etat, Corps, and Ordre: Some Notes on
the Social Vocabularyof the FrenchOld Regime," SozialgeschichteHeute:FestschriftifuerHans
Rosenberg (Goettingen:Vandenhoeck, 1974).
It is strikingthat Westernculture is pervadedby such sets of three social categories based on
pairs of binary distinctions. The French anthropologistGeorges Dumezil has spent nearly his
entire career studying this substratumof indo-europeancategorization. See especially his short
book, L'Ideologie tri-partitedes indo-europeens(Brussels: Latomus, 1958).
17 The word "natural"is problematicin any comparativediscussion of societies, and I do not
introduceit without trepidation.It is especially problematichere, since there is anothersense of
the word precisely opposite the one which I invoke here and will characterizein greaterdetail
furtheron in the paper. What I am suggesting with the use of the word here is that the social
scientists whose work is governed by the three worlds concept assume that the first world of
moderncapitalistdemocracies is naturalin the sense of being unconstrainedand self-regulating.
This is primarilyan eighteenth century use of the word that we are likely to rememberbest in
relation to Adam Smith and discussions of free marketeconomics; it was, however, used commonly by nearly all the Enlightenmentcritics of eighteenthcentury society. We seldom use the
term in this sense now, I think, largely because its normative dimension gradually became
superfluousafter the industrialrevolution and the democraticrevolutions of the late eighteenth
century. It is, however, still implicit in our thinkingabout the first world. It is the very basis of
whateverdegree of scientificity we accord the social sciences. When I use the word "natural"
here then, I emphaticallydo not mean it in the sense of simple, primitive, or close to natureas
some have done in referenceto exotic societies ever since Montaigne'sessay, "On Cannibals."

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many ways the expression "underdeveloped"is even more cruel thanits predecessors,
with its scientific pretentionand its implication of superiority.
But, he also noted, he had to use it because it was the current expression.18
The same thing was true, oddly enough, of the expression "third world" that
he invented or helped invent: Since it expressed the current prejudices of the
natives of Western civilization, it had to be invented and used. But what
preposterous simplification is entailed. Not even the Christian missionaries of
the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were so naive as to lump together the
masters of the Inca empire and the tribes of hunters and gatherers. The distinction between traditional and moder that has generated the third world is
hardly more sophisticated than the nineteenth century distinction between the
civilized and uncivilized worlds, or the Chinese view of themselves as occupying the "middle kingdom."
How are we to explain the sudden ubiquity of this terminology? Substitutions like that of the word "traditional" for "primitive" were part of a
general Western tendency to clean up the language of government, journalism, and social science in reference to the rest of the world. Terms evoking
ethnocentrism, condescension, imperialism, and aggression were systematiNot
cally replaced by apparently neutral and scientific terms-euphemisms.
did
former
colonies
become
nations"
and
tribes
only
"developing
primitive
become "traditional peoples," the War and Navy Departments of the United
States Government were transformed into the "Defense" Department. This
was also the time when "the end of ideology" was announced by Daniel
Bell.'9 But the simplicity of the categories-as
distinguished from the
character
of
the
new
the propensity for
euphemistic
terminology-evinces
ideas
noted
de
It
would
have
been
general
by
Tocqueville.
simply impossible
to explain the need for foreign aid and vast military expenditures in a time of
peace with categories any more differentiated than those marshalled under the
three worlds umbrella.
In the general reaction against the oversimplifications involved in
categories such as "traditional culture" and "third world," it has seldom
been noted that the delineation of the "second world" is even less clear. In
fact, liberal critics of modernization theory since Dean C. Tipps's article of
1973, and even Marxist critics of development theory from Andre Gunder
Frank to John C. Taylor assume the coherence of the concept of a second
world while systematically attacking that of a third world.20 Of course the
18 Alfred
Sauvy, Fertility and Survival (New York: CriterionBooks, 1961), 7-8.
19 Daniel Bell, The End of
Ideology (Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1960).
20 Andre GunderFrank's "The Development of Underdevelopment," MonthlyReview 18:4

(1966), 17-31, was one of the first Marxistcritiques of modernizationtheory; John C. Taylor,
From Modernization to Modes of Production (New York: Macmillan, 1979), esp. 3-98, is
perhapsthe most recent and extended critique.
It may be of passing interest that right-wing thinking about the third world has been more

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Sino-Soviet rift has been commented upon ad infinitum, but even with the
People's Republic of China transferred to the third world or to a world of its
own, the disparity in degree of modernity between such countries as the
German Democratic Republic and Czechoslovakia on the one hand, and Bulgaria and large parts of the Soviet Union on the other, is immense. What is
more interesting, there is no consensus about the locus and meaning of the
ideological impediment to rationality there: Is it a property of the whole
population or merely of an elite? Is it an integral part of the system or merely a
propagandistic excuse for the hegemony of a cynical minority interested only
in power? It is of course altogether appropriate that the term "second world"
should be the least used of the three, and that of the three worlds it should be
the least clearly defined. The socialist world is, after all, the dangerous and
inscrutible enemy that motivated the very invention of the three worlds concept. It is the subtext and raison d'etre of the third world. And vis-a-vis the
first world, it is the "other" in the most profound sense. It is, in short, one of
those "lunes mortes, ou pales, ou obscures, au firmament de la raison. "
The governing distinctions underlying the three worlds schemetraditional/modern and ideological/free-not
only allocate the most diverse
societies and cultures to the same categories, they also imply a pseudochronological or historical relationship among the categories themselves. The
traditional societies are all destined to become modem ones, according to this
scheme, somehow and to some degree. Of course this judgment is not thoroughly
articulated in the governing distinctions themselves. Some social scientists
think modernizing is good, others think it bad; some think it will be very
difficult to bring the underdeveloped societies of the third world into the
modern world; still others think we are simply obliged by our competition
with the Soviet bloc to assist these societies in modernizing. But all social
scientists agree that there is a historical trajectory of development that leads
from tradition to modernity. Thus we see that modernization theory is not
merely some adventitious appendage of the idea of three worlds, it is constituent to the structural relationship among the underlying semantic terms.
We see also that the three worlds concept is thoroughly teleological, and not
much different from earlier speculative philosophies of history.
There are all sorts of problems with this faith in modernization, but perhaps
critical of this notion, but for obviously venal motives. See, for example, Max Beloff, 'The
Third World and the Conflict of Ideologies," in The Third World: Premises of U.S. Policy, W.
Scott Thompson, ed. (San Francisco: The Institute for Contemporary Studies, 1978), 12-13:
The ThirdWorldcan be regardedas simply a residue:what is left when one has subtractedfrom the world as
a whole the industrializedWest-mostly living under a system of capitalist or mixed economies-and the
communistempires of Russia, China, and their satellites. But that residuecontains countriesof very different
degrees of economic advancement and with a vast number of different types of social and governmental
organization. One could, therefore, argue that the phrase "the Third World" itself is a kind of abbreviated
ideology. Those who use it in the ThirdWorlddo so to justify claims for assistancein moving towardsa higher
degree of economic organizationand greatermaterialwealth; those who use it in the West implicitly concede
these claims.

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the most basic is thatmodernityis as indefinableas tradition.The threeworlds


scheme locates the end of history in societies that are very much in flux. This
arroganceof modernizationtheorists, locating the end of history in their own
problematicsocieties, is particularlyreminiscentof Hegel and his philosophy
of history.
The pseudohistoricalrelationshipof the first and second worlds implied in
these governing distinctionsis even more complex and obscure, but is worthy
of notice for just that reason. As noted earlier, the socialist world is taken to
be modern, but contaminatedwith an admixtureof ideology that prevents it
from being altogetherefficient or natural.The free world, on the other hand,
is taken to be natural in that things are presumed to follow their own
course-guided by invisible hands, as it were-without ideological prescription or management.Therefore, since the free world is presumedto be more
natural,it appearsto be implied in the governingdistinctionsthat the socialist
world should slowly but surely approximatethe free world. In fact, most
Westernsocial scientists who have studiedthe socialist world seem to assume
this. On the other hand, many studentsof the thirdworld seem to believe that
the socialist world, with its appealto social justice, has some advantagein the
competition for influence in the third world. This view in turn suggests that
the path of modernizationleads from traditionthrough an ideological stage
into truly modernand utilitarianconditions. But since this is precisely what is
at issue in the realpolitikal competition for influence in the third worldwhether third world nations will follow a capitalist or a socialist path of
development-it is appropriatethat this should be the most ambiguouspartof
the picture implied in the assumptions underlying the concept of the three
worlds.
We have delved deeply enough to appreciate how this very primitive
scheme of classification can guide the efforts of very disparate
investigators-how cold warriorsand partisansof the third world can both
work within the three worlds concept, in other words. But we must note one
more peculiarityof the assumptionsunderlyingthis scheme before going on to
consider the allocation of social scientific labor among the three worlds. The
governing distinctions-traditional/modern and ideological/free-themselves
work on two levels. On the one hand, they serve to discriminate among
degrees of economic and technological development. And on the other hand,
they discriminateamong kinds of mentality. That is to say, the distinctionsare
infected with the recurringoppositionof spiritand matter,natureand culture,
real and ideal, infrastructural
and superstructural.The traditional,for example,
is markedboth by a presumed absence of technology and the presence of a
nonscientific mentality, religion, or culture. The free world, remarkably,is
characterizedby a science and technology supposedly unfetteredby any mentality at all! The ideological world is marked by the combined presence of
advanced technology and a restrictive mentality. Several anomalies appear

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578

CARL E. PLETSCH
Populationof the World

The ModernWorld
Technologically advanced, but
ideologically ambiguous.

The Third World


Underdevelopedeconomically and
technologically, with traditional
mentalityobscuring access to
science and utilitarianthinking.

The First World


Technologically advanced,
free of ideological impediments
to utilitarianthinking, and thus
natural.

The Second World


Technologically advanced, but
burdenedwith an ideological elite
blocking free access to science
and utilitarianthinking.

Th Three Worldsas Social Categories Generated by Two Binary Distinctions


Figure T

here-the view that the population of the first world could be devoid of
mentalityis as odd as the thoughtthat the third world could have no technology. But we have now dredgedup enough of the assumptionsupon which the
three worlds scheme is based to be able to turn our attentionto the way in
which the scheme has dictated the apportionmentof social scientific labor.
The diagramin Figure 1 summarizesthe structureof the relationshipamong
the three worlds. (My intention in the foregoing has been not to perform a
definitive critique or deconstructionof the structure,but merely to elucidate
how it works.)
IV THE APPORTIONMENT
THE THREE WORLDS

OF SOCIAL SCIENTIFIC

LABOR AMONG

Having examined the genesis and structureof the three worlds concept, it
should now be relatively easy to appreciatehow we in the West decide who
should study the different worlds on our planet and how they should do it. I
shall try to explicate how each of four social sciences-anthropology, economics, sociology, and political science-appropriates a portionof the social
phenomena of the three worlds for study. This examination will involve
outlining an ideal type of each of the four sciences, and is definitely not a
statistical study of the activities of the members of the various professional
associations. I shall, in other words, ignore multifariousunusual cases that
transgressthe boundsof my ideal types and most of the recentdeparturesfrom
traditionalpractices and conceptions, no matterhow interesting. I shall concentrateratheron the codes and methodologicalnorms of the social sciences.
My argument must hinge, therefore, upon the general plausibility of my
explication and the normativestatementsof leading members of the various
disciplines.
One preliminaryquestion, however. Is there really any systematic division
of social scientific labor? At first glance it may appear that only the an-

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thropologistsare relegatedto a single domain-the thirdworld. A closer look


reveals that althoughthe rest of the labormay be divided in subtlerfashion, it
is nonetheless clearly divided. But since the anthropologistsare the students
of the "other" in its purestform, at least in the assumptionof social scientific
discourse, it will rewardus to pay particularattentionto them.
First let us see what can be derived from the distinctions among science,
ideology, and culture. Western social scientists have reserved the concept of
culturefor the mentalitiesof traditionalsocieties in their pristine states. They
have designated the socialist societies of the second world the province of
ideology. And they have long assumed-not unanimously, to be sure-that
the modern West is the natural haven of science and utilitarianthinking.
Consistentwith this scheme, one clan of social scientists is set apartto study
the pristine societies of the third world-anthropologists. Other clanseconomists, sociologists, and political scientists-study the third world only
insofar as the process of modernizationhas alreadybegun. The true province
of these latter social sciences is the modern world, especially the natural
societies of the West. But again, subclans of each of these sciences of the
modern world are specially outfitted to make forays into the ideological regions of the second world. Much as their fellow economists, sociologists, and
political scientists who study the process of modernizationin the thirdworld,
these students of the second world are engaged in area studies. What distinguishes their area is the danger associated with ideology, as opposed to the
now innocent otherness of traditionalcultures. But the larger contrastis between all of these area specialists, whetherof the second or third world, and
the disciplinarygeneralistswho study the naturalsocieties of the first world.21
This may seem a drastic oversimplificationin its own right, but I submit
that three considerationsseem to justify viewing the division of social scientific labor in this admittedly schematic way. First, the exceptions are of the
sort that confirm rules. Second, viewing mattersin this way makes sense of
many of the peculiarpracticesand attitudesof Westernsocial scientists. And
third, social scientists themselves, at least those of my acquaintancewho have
served as native informantsfor this study recognize themselves in the scheme.
Considerthe anthropologists.They are the only social scientists of whom a
genuine rite of initiation is required. They all do field work in some exotic
context as a kind of preconditionto calling themselves anthropologists.Field
work is done in as strangeor as different a society as possible; and it is done
alone, or as nearly alone as possible, so that prospectiveanthropologistsmay
have occasion to divest themselves of preconceptionsas thoroughlyas possible and enterfully into the life of the exotic subjectsof the research.Whenthe
21 On area
specialists and disciplinary generalists, see Lambert, Language and Area Studies
Review; and James N. Rosenau, International Studies and the Social Sciences (Beverly Hills,
Calif.: Sage Publications, 1973), sponsored by the International Studies Association.

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anthropologistreturns from the field, it is to write an ethnography. The


enthnographyis an elaboratecase study in which all the peculiaritiesof the
exotic society in question are explored and understoodas partsof a system or
structure.The aim of the ethnographyis to make sense (to Westerners)of a
superficiallyrandomset of instancesof otherness.Ethnographiesare of course
frequentlywrittenon societies chosen for their apparentcapacity to decide a
theoreticalissue or illustratea preconception,but in anthropology,theory has
traditionallybeen secondary to the exquisite descriptionof otherness. Thus
anthropologyis a discipline that accumulates its knowledge in case studies
ratherthan in theoreticalpropositionsor theirelaborations.Thus anthropology
is the idiographicscience par excellence, and the best anthropologistshave
always been proud of the fact. In all of these ways anthropologyis unique
among the social sciences, at least in its ideal typical formulation.And all of
these idiosyncracies of anthropology make sense in view of the fact that
anthropologyis the science of culture, the science of the third world in its
pristine state, the science of a vast arrayof societies with idiosyncraticmentalities.
There are of course exceptions-anthropologists who study the first world,
for example, but they go self-consciously against the grain and write in an
ironic mode. And what is more interesting,they are dedicatedto the proposition that we, the natives of the first world, have a culture too, and one of
which we are relatively unaware, perhapseven an ideology that works best
when we are unawareof it.22
In turn, consider the other, the nomothetic, end of the social scientific
spectrum.The disciplinarygeneralistsin economics, sociology, and political
science are thought capable of discovering naturallaws of human behavior
because the phenomena they observe in the first world are natural, i.e.,
unconstrainedby ideology or culture. In the economic arena, each individual
is free to maximize his or her own satisfactions in dealing with others. And
people are presumedto do this without ideological direction or culturalprogramming. The invisible hand of Adam Smith has, it is well known, cast a
long shadow over the economics profession. There is considerable doubt
whether very many people, even in the modern West, behave in the ideal
typical fashion of "economic man." But the science of economics, and
particularlythe practice of its generalists who study the first world, is based
upon a model of society constituted of autonomous individuals, each
motivated by the same underlying characteristic, namely selfishness. This
motivation is conceived to be natural,for the individualsin question do not
have to be taughtto seek their own interests, nor do they need an ideology to
urge them on, or a cultureto tell them what their interestsare. And the people
22
See, for example, Francis L. K. Hsu, "The Cultural Problem of the Anthropologist,"
American Anthropologist, 81:3 (1979), 517-32.

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who follow their naturalinclinations are most predictablein their behavior.


Their activities, in other words, lend themselves admirablyto the formulation
of general laws of human behavior.
Likewise in sociology and political science, where the premises are seldom
made as explicit as they are in economics, individuals are presumedto see
their own interests and pursue them freely. The only difference is that
economists are interested in the individual's pursuit of wealth, whereas
sociologists and political scientists are interestedin the pursuitof status and
power. Occasionally the analogy with economics and the rationalpursuitof
self-interest is made systematically explicit as, for example, in Anthony
Downs's Economic Theory of Democracy.23 It is presumed that any other

form of governmentwould be less rationalbecause less directly based upon


the individual self-interests of all the individuals in the society, just as any
economy not a free market is less rational in economics. And less rational
systems are by definition less easy to predict and therefore poorer bases for
formulatinggeneral laws.
Thus whatever one studies in the first world-wealth, status, or powerunconstrainedself-interestis the governing principlethat guaranteesthe possibility of formulatinggeneral laws of human behavior. These laws are of
course not always perfectlydescriptiveof actualbehavior, for even in the first
world some people are supposed to be deluded with ideological and religious
prejudices that make them behave unnaturally,i.e., not in their own selfinterests. But these are individualdeviants who can be correctedfor by use of
the appropriatestatistical methods. It is in the second and third worlds that
these laws apply only very imperfectly, and where they can be useful only if
they have been adaptedto the particularcontext by someone with a great deal
of particularisticknowledge of that context. In a traditionalkingdom, for
example, where a single individualor class might conceivably make all of the
economic decisions of a whole society, much in the mannerof Adam Smith's
presumptuousstatesmen,24one would have to know a great deal about the
king's psychology as well as about the culturalcode defining the king's role.
Only within these parameterscould an economist apply the naturallaws of
economics. But in the first world the practice of economics, sociology, and
political science is supposedto correspondclosely with our best ideas of what
science should be. As a consequence, disciplinarygeneralists in these three
social sciences have a strong sense of their own superiorability to understand
23
24

(New York: Harper& Row, 1957).


The Wealth of Nations, Edwin Cannan, ed. (1904; rpt. Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1976), I, 478. "The statesman,who should attemptto directprivatepeople in what manner
they ought to employ their capitals, would not only load himself with a most unnecessary
attention,but assume an authoritywhich could safely be trusted,not only to no single person, but
to no council or senate whatever,and which would no-wherebe so dangerousas in the handsof a
man who had folly and presumptionenough to fancy himself fit to exercise it."

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the world in comparison with the idiographic anthropologist or the area


studies specialist.
Area studies are neitheridiographiclike anthropologyin the thirdworld nor
nomothetic like the social sciences practiced in the first world. They are a
compromise, adaptationsof first world social science to particularisticsecond
and third world context. Area studies specialists require knowledge of languages, history, customs, and even biographiesof individuals, as well as at
least a rudimentarycompetence in one of the social scientific disciplines. The
area studies specialist must thus be a polymath. Disciplinarygeneralistsespecially have expressed doubts about whetherthe area studies specialist, if he
learns all the particularisticthings he needs to know abouthis area, can really
stay currentand competentin his discipline. This has given rise not only to a
debate over the relative competencies of disciplinary generalists and area
studies specialists, but also to a struggle for funds between the two camps.
The contest for funds is most crucial in areastudies, of course, since these are
the academic specialities createdduringthe Cold Warto supply governments
with advice aboutpolicy making. Thereis a greatdeal of soft money to win or
lose.25 During the 1950s and 1960s the balance seemed to favor the area
specialists, but since the early 1970s it appearsto have shifted in the direction
of the disciplinary generalists.26It is interesting that this shift has been
roughly contemporaneouswith detente and the growing governmentalapathy
regarding social scientific defense research, as well as with the increasing
gradualeclipse of modernizationtheory and the three worlds concept.
The proponentsof disciplinarygeneralismseem to have a good case, arguing (1) that area studies specialists necessarily devote time to particularistic
learning that can only detract from time spent in the theory of their home
disciplines, and (2) that the informationlearnedin area studies is not suitable
to the formationor modificationof general laws, since the societies in question are not natural. (The second argumentis made less frequently, but it
remainsimplicit in the structureof the three worlds notion and in the division
of labor I am seeking to explicate). One answer to these criticisms suggests
that it is unfortunateto draw too firm a line between disciplinarygeneralists
and area studies specialists. In accusing James Rosenau of having made this
distinctiontoo rigidly, RichardLambertblames him for describingthe disciplinary generalistsas having
25 The
competitionfor funds raises an interestingset of questions about the motives for doing
area studies. The core of the problem is this: whereas both anthropologistsand disciplinary
generalists in economics, sociology, and political science have their motives clearly defined in
their professional associations-scientific motives-the area studies specialists are defined
largely by the sale of their research to governments. Furthermore,the underlyingdistinctions
governing the division of the globe into three suggests that the area studies people may have
perverse motives; otherwise they would not be studying unnaturalsocieties.
26 Rosenau, InternationalStudies, 30-33; and Lambert,Language and Area StudiesReview,
1-6.

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superiortheoreticaland methodological-especially quantitativeskills. Implicitin this


formulation is a negative judgment of the worthwhileness of the area-orientedintellectual enterprises. One problem is that teaching, writing, and research in area
studies call for a level of pure descriptionthat Western-basedscholars, having grown
up in the culture they study, can take for granted. Another is that the criteriausually
come from those disciplines and segments of disciplines which are most behavioral,
quantitative,ahistorical, and acultural,while the largest proportionof area specialists
are in history, anthropology,language and literature,and the particularisticsegments
of political science. Aside from these factors, however, it is difficult to understand
why scholars become less "disciplinary" when they add a competence with respectto
anotherarea of the world and concentratetheir researchand teaching there.27
Interestingly, it falls here to the area studies specialist to point out that social
scientists who study the first world have and depend upon particularistic
knowledge of their own societies. This suggests that the idea of nomothetic
social science is problematic even in the first world. Of course it is not my
intention to settle this debate, or even to express an opinion in it. My interest
here is simply to point out that this disagreement is an artifact of the three
worlds system and of the way in which we allocate social scientific labor. (I
plan to describe in another paper the consequences that the fissure in our
thinking about the social sciences has had in studies of the socialist world.)
The difficulty derives ultimately from the fact that the nomothetic social
sciences are not themselves outfitted to take systematic account of mentalities
of any kind. This is congruent with the image of the first world as a world of
technology and utilitarian thinking. The conflicting claims to authority of the
area specialists and disciplinary generalists were not a problem in studies of
exotic societies so long as the nomothetic social sciences had not yet developed (intellectual) hegemonic pretentions, nor was the conflict clearly
statable until these sciences began to be employed as adjuncts of the world
hegemonic pretentions of the United States and her allies. As long as the
exotic world was the object of merely ethnographic research, and as long as
imperialism was a relatively simple matter of European domination, area
studies did not exist, and the debate between disciplinary generalists and, say,
orientalists was unthinkable. Even such knowledge as Orientalism, which was
certainly implicated in British and French imperialism, had a more generally
cultural and less assertively nomothetic character until about 1945. In his
book, Orientalism, Edward Said notes the change:
Because we have become accustomed to think of a contemporaryexpert on some
branchof the Orient, or some aspect of its life, as a specialist in "area studies," we
have lost a vivid sense of how, until around World War II, the Orientalist was
considered to be a generalist (with a great deal of specific knowledge, of course) who
had highly developed skills for making summational statements. By summational
statements I mean that in formulating a relatively uncomplicated idea, say, about
Arabic grammaror Indian religion, the Orientalistwould be understood(and would
27

Lambert, Language and Area Studies, 3.

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understandhimself) as also making a statementabout the Orient as a whole, thereby


summing it up. Thus every discrete study of one bit of Orientalmaterialwould also
confirm in a summaryway the profoundOrientalityof the material.And since it was
commonly believed that the whole Orient hung together in some profoundlyorganic
way, it made perfectly good hermeneuticalsense for the Orientalistscholar to regard
the materialevidence he dealt with as ultimately leading to a better understandingof
such things as the Orientalcharacter,mind, ethos, or world-spirit.28
As much as I approve of Said's general argument, it seems to me that especially in his consideration of this last phase of Orientalism (i.e., since World
War II) he has neglected the transforming role of modernization theory and
the three worlds concept. Modernization theory (and the three worlds scheme)
has introduced the fragmentation of wealth, status, and power (and the corresponding social sciences) into Orientalism, displaced the older cultural emphasis, and made possible the encroachment of economists, political scientists, and sociologists with their different theoretical preoccupations. In spite
of its long tradition as esoteric knowledge, Orientalism has thus become one
of a number of area studies specialties and enjoys all of the ambiguities of the
genre, the most important being its use as a battlefield for area experts and
disciplinary generalists.
In the documents of the Social Science Research Council, the Ford Foundation, and other agencies, area studies of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union
are differentiated from other branches of area studies like Middle Eastern
studies (the heir of Orientalism) only by geography. In the broad context, this
is not very misleading, since most of the scholarly work done on Eastern
Europe under this rubric is in fact done by historians, literary scholars,
in short-working
primarily on prerevomusicologists, etc.-humanists
lutionary topics. But for the modern branch of Eastern European area studies
that interests us here, there is an important distinction to be made. Communism research, as it is often called, is focused exclusively upon questions
about the Soviet Union from 1917 on and about the rest of Eastern Europe
since 1945. What distinguishes communism research from other sorts of area
studies lies beneath the idea of a second world-a modem (i.e., technological) but ideological region. We should be prepared to pay particular attention
to the way in which social scientific labor is and has been allocated to this
second world, since it was the sudden appearance of the Soviet bloc in
Western strategic calculations that gave rise to the three worlds scheme,
modernization theory, and the systematic division of social scientific labor I
have been describing. Although much more critical energy has been devoted
to attacking modernization theory and developmental questions related to the
third world, the kind of social scientific work that has been generated on the
second world is the real acid test of the three worlds scheme and the division
of labor that it has dictated.
28

Edward W. Said, Orientalism (New York: Pantheon, 1978), 255.

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The degree to which our view of Eastern Europe is crucial is perhaps more
apparent in the obviously pragmatic arena of foreign policy than it is in
academic research. In the only ambitious critique of Soviet studies published
to date, Jerry F. Hough put it this way:
Despite the stateddesire of each new administrationin the United States to concentrate
its attentionupon WesternEurope, Japan, and the ThirdWorld, competition with the
Soviet Union always becomes the fulcrum of foreign policy....29
In academic research the relationship is much less clear than it is in the world
of realpolitik where every practical step in the third world involves a calculation of the interests of the Soviet Union. In academic research the existence of
the Soviet bloc is conceptually primary, whereas in foreign policy the Soviet
Union is simply the first and most powerful strategic opponent. But in both
foreign policy formation and academic research, the Soviet bloc is the raison
d'etre of the three worlds scheme. And for us generally, the Soviet bloc is the
most significant "other."
The modernity and technological sophistication (especially military) of the
second world permit us to believe that this area is less foreign to us than it may
actually be. In the three worlds discourse, quite obviously, the second world
of the Soviet bloc is taken to be less foreign than the third. This has led to the
exclusive assignment of social scientists of the modern world to the study of
Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union-economists,
political scientists, and
sociologists rather than anthropologists. But precisely this presumed
modernity, when combined with the hostile ideology that serves to differentiate the second world from the first, makes those societies dangerous
and lends particular urgency to our efforts to understand them.
That urgency is understandable, I think, in view of the suddenness with
which the Soviet Union seemed to assert itself in Europe after the war. And
the efforts to comprehend the thinking of the "enemy"'-not merely in terms
of monies invested in communism research, but of energies invested in reconceptualizing the world-were a natural response to the challenge. But that fact
should not obscure the possibility that all this hasty effort and immediacy were
not necessarily well calculated to yield objective, reliable, or even interesting
knowledge. In fact, it is arguable that the entire movement of reconceptualization and the financing of social scientific research that commenced with the
Cold War has yielded a much more differentiated understanding of both the
first and third worlds than of the second. Certainly the idea of a moder but
ideological world has led us to ignore or suppress the genuine foreignness of
Eastern Europe.30
29

Jerry F. Hough, The Soviet Union and Social Science Theory (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard
University Press, 1977), vii.
30 I shall take the sad state of Soviet and Eastern European studies as a given. I have no
ambition to demonstrate or analyze particular weaknesses of the field in this paper-which
is
devoted to a more general problem-although
I would like to do so in the future. I do not

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The deficiencies of social scientific research on the Soviet bloc countries


may ultimately prove to have been the most serious consequence of the
primitive system of classification here described. Even modernization
theory-with all its inherentfailings-was appliedin less interestingways in
communismresearchthan in studies of the thirdworld. Thus it is appropriate
that the first systematic critique of communism research by an established
(and non-Marxist)scholar should have appearedseveral years after the first
critiquesof modernizationtheory had become common knowledge. This was
Hough's The Soviet Union and Social Science Theory. Equally appropriate

and more revealing is the fact that Hough, as a Soviet scholar, was in a better
position to assess the sources of the biases of his field than the critics of
modernization theory were. In his introductionhe noted that communist
studies had "been confined to a ghetto within the social sciences." In part, he
notes, this has been the fault of the practitionersof Soviet studies. Either
descendants of exiles or themselves exiles of the Soviet regime, or persons
interested in the Soviet Union as the most importantenemy of the United
States, most Soviet scholars "have generallybeen happyto be trainedas area
specialists, and their concern with social science theory has tended to be
limited to those modernizationtheories that might illuminate the course of
evolution of Soviet society." But more important, Hough also notes that
while the disciplinarygeneralists in the social sciences have frequentlycondemnedthe areastudies approachand demandedthat communismresearchbe
integratedinto mainline social science, these same scholars have failed to
incorporatesocialist societies in their comparativeresearchor theoreticalargumentation.
In theirbooks, comparativetheoristshave tendedto analyzethe Soviet Union in
of theSoviet
black-and-white,
ideal-typetermsthatemphasizethedistinctivecharacter
Unionbothempiricallyandnormatively.
Theygenerallyhaveusedthe Sovietsystem
for littlemorethana foil againstwhichto highlightthe virtuesof Westernpolitical
modelsof development.3'
systemsor non-Communist
The questionis, why should this be the case? Could it possibly be that no one
is really interestedin a moderatelysophisticatedunderstandingof the Soviet
Union and her EasternEuropeanallies?
The answerthatHough suggests to these questionsis a simple one. According to him,
thereforebase my judgment upon my own evaluationof the field, but upon the extended evaluation thathas been made by JerryF. Hough. His authorityis good, for in writingTheSoviet Union
and Social Science Theory (cited in note 29) and rewritingMerle Fainsod's How Russia is Ruled
(Cambridge,Mass.: HarvardUniversity Press, 1953) underthe new title, How the Soviet Union
is Governed (Cambridge, Mass.: HarvardUniversity Press, 1979), he has unquestionablyprovided the best extant survey of the scholarly work in this field. He has, furthermore,set his
evaluation in the context of social scientific and especially comparativescholarshipgenerallysomething that Soviet and EasternEuropeanscholars have been loath to do in the past.
31
Hough, Soviet Union and Society Science Theory, I.

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the ghettoization of Soviet studies has been quite convenient for everyone directly
involved. Graduate students already burdened with learning a strange culture and
language have been sparedthe task of masteringa vast social science literature.Social
science theoristshave been sparedthe effort of testing theirtheories againstthe experience of one thirdof the world's population. And in particular,they have been spared
the task of facing up to phenomenathat challenge many of their fundamentalideological and empirical assumptionsabout the sources and exercise of power.
It is only our understandingof the Soviet political system and the developmentof
social science theory that has not benefited from the ghettoizationof Soviet studies.32
This explanation has many virtues, but perhaps the most important is that it
locates the weakness of communism research in the discourse about socialist
societies, rather than in the personal failings of individual researchers. Furthermore, it places the blame equally on the practitioners of communism
research (area studies), the theoretical social scientists (disciplinary
generalists), and the practitioners of comparative studies. The only failing of
the explanation is the omission of any word as to how this anomalous situation
arose and by what logic. I hope that my analysis of the three world concept
and the attendant division of social scientific labor will have provided the
missing context to complete the explanation.
For while particular features of communism research can be understood by
referring exclusively to its practitioners, the difference between communism
research and other areas of social scientific practice can be understood only by
making extensive reference to the most general criteria for the division of
social scientific labor. The segregation of communism research from the main
stream of theoretical developments in economics, political science, and
sociology, from trends in comparative studies, and from the tradition of
ethnography, is an artifact of the general division of labor prevailing since
approximately 1950. This division of labor is rooted, as I have tried to show,
in the very primitive classificatory scheme embodied in the idea of three
worlds.
The anomalous nature of communism research is only one of the paradoxes
attendant upon the three world division. But it is potentially the most disastrous. On the one hand, the Soviet Union's very existence seems to have
catalyzed this view of the globe and, on the other, under this conceptualization the Soviet Union has been studied in a more provincial manner than any
other portion of the globe. But, as horrible as it is, this paradox could become
a source of insight. The realization might alienate us sufficiently from the
three worlds scheme and its underlying assumptions as to permit us not only to
criticize it but to think beyond it-as we have not yet learned to think beyond
modernization theory in spite of having criticized it! It is, after all, no less
urgently incumbent upon us to understand the world and "the other" in it now
than it was in 1950.
32

Ibid.,

2.

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The three worlds scheme was a necessary creation of the immediate postwar
situation, and no opprobrium attaches to its inventors or those who employed
it. It had a certain value, even to social scientists, in making sense of the tasks
facing researchers in the earliest phase of the Cold War. It divided the globe into
apparently manageable portions and suggested which social scientists should
work on what portion and how. It gave the various social sciences a systematic grounding in the new world situation and permitted the establishment of
new disciplinary matrices, which in turn translated the various social scientific
traditions into approaches relevant to this world situation. The rise of the
various branches of area studies, including communism research, is the most
obvious and dramatic evidence of this-academic specialties invented out of
whole cloth to correspond to the new areas of political and economic influence
being sought by the United States. But if one takes a close look at the
ideographic science of anthropology, or even the ostensibly nomothetic sciences of economics, sociology, and political science, one sees equally if not
more significant shifts in focus and emphasis in response to the intellectual
challenges of the Cold War. Even in the work in economics, sociology, and
political science that was devoted to the problems of the first world, we can
see that the Cold War provoked, and the three worlds image permitted, the
integration of whole new subdisciplines. Thus an immense and extremely
valuable amount of research has been done under the aegis of the three worlds
scheme and the social semantics that governed it. In fact, by far the larger half
of all social science ever done in the Occident has been done under the
conceptual umbrella of the three worlds. It would be absurd simply to reject it,
no matter how grievously misleading it may also have been.
Our challenge is not merely to cast aside this conceptual ordering of social
scientific labor, but to criticize it. And we must understand the task of criticism in the Kantian, Hegelian, and Marxist sense here. We must, in other
words, overcome the limitations that the three worlds notion has imposed
upon the social sciences as a matter of course. We must first appreciate both
the strengths and weakness of the notion, then understand how it came into
being and what larger social interests it served, and finally transcend it by
devising another conceptual umbrella for social science that will serve all the
useful purposes that the three worlds notion served, without its obvious defects. Well might we apply Engels's injunction, made in the context of his
evaluation of Feuerbach's role in overcoming Hegelian philosophy. He wrote
that Hegelian philosophy remained to be overcome or aufgehoben, "in the
sense that while its form had to be annihilated through criticism, the new
content which had been won through it had to be saved. "33 Or, for those with
33 Friedrich
Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach und der Ausgang der klassischen deutschen
Philosophie, in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Werke (Berlin: Dietz, 1962), XXI, 273.

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an allergy to German philosophy, the challenge can be phrased in the more


fashionable language of the history and philosophy of science: The three
worlds concept has functioned as a kind of paradigm, but numerous anomalies
have begun to appear. A "scientific revolution" seems to be in preparation.
The anomalies generated by the three worlds became apparent first in
studies of development and modernization in the third world. But the problems of modernization are not adventitious or restricted to the ways in which
social scientists have studied the so-called underdeveloped countries. These
problems are inextricably bound up with better hidden problems of social
science as it has been practiced on the first and second worlds. Uncovering the
relationship among (1) the acknowledged difficulties and confusion faced by
students of the third world in trying to understand the processes of social
transformation there, (2) the egregious carping of communism research, and
(3) the unjustified arrogance of disciplinary generalists working on the supposedly natural societies of the capitalist democracies-this is the dimension
of the problem addressed in this paper. I have tried to suggest that these
various difficulties are not unrelated but linked, like the children of Noah in
their common genealogy, in the concept of three worlds. They are, in a very
important sense, complementary difficulties. Once this is recognized, it will
also be seen that they are problems that can never be overcome simply by
separate critiques or revisions in the separate areas of difficulty. Only a
systematic critique of the particular form of division of social scientific labor
that has been dictated by the conceptual division of the globe into three worlds
of research will suffice. Odd though it may seem, these are difficulties more
easily overcome in concert than individually.
The limits of space and the conventions of the academic essay prohibit
speculation on the form to be taken by the new conceptualization of the globe
that will replace the three worlds. It would be vain to hope that it will take a
unitary form. De Tocqueville's God, who, as we remember, surveys "all the
beings of whom mankind is composed; and... discerns in each man the
resemblances that assimilate him to all his fellows, and the differences that
distinguish him from them," is the ultimate nominalist. Individual social
scientists are not likely to acquire such powers of perception in the near
future. Nor is there any immediate prospect of altering those basic features of
democratic capitalist societies to which de Tocqueville credited our exaggerated predilection for general ideas. In fact, it may be more appropriate to put
ourselves on guard against whatever new conceptual scheme may grow up to
replace the three worlds than to congratulate ourselves upon having seen
through modernization theory and the three worlds.
As problematic as the task of replacing the three worlds scheme seems to
be, however, some progress toward a more differentiated view of the world
has been made. Now that we have begun to recognize that not all the societies
of Africa, Asia, and so on, are tending in the single direction of

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"modernity'"-a recognitionforced upon us by the vigorous argumentsof the


many critics of modernizationtheory-we may be acquiringa basis for the
eventual appreciationof the real kinship of our different, concrete historical
developments. In respect to the Soviet Union and EasternEurope, we have
not made so much progress. But if, for example, we once recognize thatthere
is a politics in the Soviet Union-as JerryHough and a few others have been
trying to show us-even if it is a differentpolitics from the one we practice,
then we may at least be acquiringa basis upon which to understandsome real
differences.
Most of all, once we begin to recognize ourselves in the distortedpictures
we have drawn of the peoples of the so-called second and third worlds, we
will also recognize the degree to which our attemptsto manipulatethe rest of
the world-even conceptually-have reflected the insecurity of the political
and intellectualleaders of our so-called first world. This problem, of course,
is one of subjectivityand introspection,a problemof understandingourselves.
And this essay is merely a partof the largerattemptto understandthe social
locus of the social scientific observerand the epistemological status of social
scientific observations. But even after we have transcendedthe division of
social scientific labor dictatedby the three worlds, we will still be faced with
the eternal problem of the subjectivity of observation. Only if we can remember that "the other" is never defined in intrinsic terms, but always in
terms of its difference from the observer, will we have the epistemological
basis for a differentiatedunderstandingof the globe's societies. This understanding will be rooted in our understandingof the problem of observing
"others"-a problem to which we have given scarcely any attentionduring
the reign of the three worlds concept.
A more differentiatedconceptualizationof the world's social phenomena
based upon a general awareness of the paradoxes of observation will not
realize the fantasies of Redfield, Sauvy, and the others-one world government. It may, however, be a preconditionnot only of any quantumleap in the
quality of social scientific scholarship, but of any improvementin relations
among the societies of the globe.

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