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Journal of Political Ecology: 
Case Studies in History and Society



VOLUME 5 (1998)

Third World in the First: Development and Indigenous Peoples, by Elspeth Young, 1995. London and New York: Routledge. 304 pp.


Reviewed by James Waldram, Department of Native Studies, University of Saskatchewan.

This book compares Aboriginal peoples' experiences with processes of development in Canada and Australia. The emphasis is on remote areas of these two countries, and the comparison is striking. Particular attention is paid to government policies and selected industries, such as mining and tourism. Young also looks at the traditional, landBbased economies of Aboriginal peoples in the two countries, and concludes her study with an examination of Aboriginal development initiatives. In the latter case, particular emphasis is placed on sustainable development as a strategy.

This is a lushly produced book, complete with many photographs, figures and tables. It demonstrates the value of international comparisons of Indigenous issues, and transcends academic disciplines. A geographer by training, Young focuses on the land and the relationship of Aboriginal peoples to it. Her extensive research, however, includes accessing historical and anthropological studies in addition to those of geography. The use of excerpts from her own field notes, recorded while undertaking research with Aboriginal peoples in the two countries, adds a humanistic, anthropological feel to her work.

The volume demonstrates some theoretical problems. Of particular note is Young's failure to adequately explain her adoption of the Third World paradigm as a framework for understanding Indigenous minorities within liberal, democratic states. She notes only in passing the existence of a Fourth World paradigm, which other authors have suggested more adequately describes the situation of these Indigenous peoples. We are left wondering why she rejects the Fourth World paradigm. The use of the Third World as a framework obfuscates the very real political and economic differences between Indigenous peoples in Canada/Australia with those in, say, African nations where they are the majority and even in control of the state. Although it is emotionally appealing to refer to Aboriginal peoples as living in Third World conditions, the comparison is debatable. Young fails to comprehend the impact of state-supported programs such as medicare, education allowances, and housing. Few Aboriginal people in Canada, at least, die of protein/calorie malnutrition, in contrast to many areas of Africa. These are not petty differences, and they require considerably more thought than has been applied here. So, whereas the comparison works on one level, theoretically the volume is lacking. This should not deter those interested in international development issues, however, for the author has done a credible job researching and collating a large amount of information on the two countries. Comparisons such as we have here serve to advance our understanding of the effects of globalization on the world's Indigenous peoples.