As noted above, the term ‘Third World’ came into common use in the context of decolonisation and super-power rivalry in the two decades after the Second World War. But at the same time the Third World, as then defined, was the product of a much longer historical process — more than five hundred years of commerce, conquest, colonisation and economic penetration carried forward by competing European states, later joined by the United States and Japan. We cannot give a comprehensive account of that process here. Rather, we draw attention to its central features for the four regions — Africa, East and Southeast Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East — which provide our subject matter throughout the book. Additionally, we seek to draw out some implications for economic and political change in the period since the Second World War, with which we shall be concerned in later chapters.
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