Country – Concept, types, differences with State and nation

We explain what a country is, how many there are in the world and what types exist. Also, differences with a state and with a nation.

A country is a territory occupied by a relatively uniform population.

What is a country?

A country is a territory (that is, a portion of the earth’s surface), endowed with its own geographical characteristics and occupied by a more or less culturally uniform population, and which may or may not constitute a sovereign political unit. That is, a country It is a political-geographical unit that is distinguished from the others, mainly, in social, cultural, territorial and economic aspects.

The word “country” comes from the French term country, with more or less the same sense, derived in turn from late Latin pagensis, that is, “inhabitant of a pagus”, The latter being a canton or district of the Roman provinces of Gaul or Germania. In fact, it is a term linked to “pagan” (paganus), that is, “villager”.

Today, the term is colloquially a synonym for “State” and in some cases for “nation”. However, these terms do not really mean the same thing.

In fact, the use of the word “country” presents a certain margin of polysemy, since it is common to see it used to also refer to culturally autonomous regions (such as the “Basque Country” in Spain) or even to geographical regions belonging to the same culture. (like the “countries” in the interior of France: Pays de Sault, Pays de la Loire, etc.).

How many countries are in the world?

Countries, as well as people, have their periods of existence and they have not always been the same, neither in nature nor in number. At the beginning of the 21st century there are 194 sovereign countries recognized as such by the United Nations Organization, the highest body for cooperation among the nations of the world.

To these should be added the Holy See of the Vatican, that is, the State of the Vatican City: a political-religious entity that the Pope governs within the city of Rome, in Italy, and that lacks a numerically relevant population ( less than 1,000 people).

It is also important to consider the Palestinian nation, whose claim for recognition as a sovereign country has not yet been endorsed by the organization, due to its history of political-territorial conflicts with Israel.

In total, it could be said that there are 196 different countries in the world.

Differences between country, state and nation

These three terms, in a colloquial context, they can be used synonymously, since they all have to do with the different geographical and socio-political units in which humanity has organized itself. However, when sharpening the gaze, we must distinguish between the specific meaning of each one, as follows:

  • Country. Of the three terms, “country” is probably the most ambiguous. It refers, as we have said before, to a specific territorial and political unit, which may or may not coincide with a State, and which may contain one or more nations. In this sense, a country is a political-geographical label, a name by which its inhabitants are known.
  • State. The term “State” refers to the set of institutions that operate in a society to establish its rules and administer sovereignty, both internally and externally of a territory that is owned as its own. States, therefore, exist as social, political and legal constructions, which are administered by a government.

Thus, in a country there may be one or more States, depending on whether it is a centralized or federal organization model: the United States of America, for example, is a country that includes 50 different States, affiliated to the same political project. federal.

For example, a person who lives in the States of Washington or California is an American, but their daily life is managed by different local institutions and different local laws.

  • Nation. Finally, the term nation can refer to two things: the political-legal nation, that is, the constituent subject of the State; or to the sociocultural nation, a more subjective and ambiguous concept, which encompasses the ethnic, social and cultural similarities of a group of inhabitants of a country.

So, when we speak of the nation (first meaning), we are basically referring to the State; while when speaking of this or that nation, we refer to its settlers, its inhabitants or the culture that unifies them.

That is why there are plurinational countries, such as Bolivia, in which some 36 linguistically and ethnically different nations coexist within the same political and legal framework (the same State), and with the same Bolivian nationality (country). different from each other, such as the Aymara, the Canichana, the Araona, etc.

Country types

industrialized country
Industrialized countries can give their inhabitants a good quality of life.

There are many different ways to classify countries, as they are as diverse from each other as are their own inhabitants. However, one of the most common is the one that takes into account their level of economic and industrial development, that is, what place they occupy in the economic circuit of the world. According to this vision, we must distinguish between:

  • Developed or industrialized countries. Those that have achieved a good level of industrialization and are capable of producing high-quality goods and services, which represent a significant economic income, which, in turn, translates into the possibility of providing their inhabitants with high levels of life.
  • Emerging or developing countries. Those who are in the midst of long and difficult processes of industrialization or productive modernization, usually enjoying certain advantages of the industrial world, but suffering from certain conditions of the underdeveloped world. The standard of living of its citizens, therefore, is irregular and depends to a great extent on the historical-economic cycles: strong depressions and sudden bonanzas.
  • Underdeveloped or little industrialized countries. Those who have not even managed to start their industrial development process yet, or who find themselves in political, social or economic conditions too adverse to even think about it. They are impoverished nations, which do not always manage to meet the minimum requirements of the standard of living of their inhabitants, and therefore tend to face structural problems such as hunger, misery, epidemics or internal wars.