The Rideau Centre and Bayshore Mall can both be seen as an example of a place where the ontological insecurity dynamic plays out. Shoppers want to buy clothing in order to have some sense of control or ontological security. The clothes, accessories, make-up that they wear, or the games, gadgets, and  symbolize their identity and status, which creates sense of "choice" to be part of the “in” crowd, to be Canadian, or to simply calm the unsettling feelings of ontological insecurity., and buy clothes that help secure their position. However, shoppers are essentially asking the same questions as students. They want to know if they are doing enough to be part of the in crowd and how do they measure up to others outside the self. When a shopper sees people of a perceived lower status have the same things that they, this challenges their ontological security. Likewise, when their peers have new clothes and more advanced devices this pushes the consumer to want to purchase more in order to measure up more effectively. Thus in order to maintain this sense of security we must continue to consume, regardless of the financial uncertainty we face which is prevalent today.

The struggle to measure up is a continuous effort by consumers who want to be up to date, and clothing companies who want to make you keep trying and buying. For example, the picture below shows a store with the caption “remix your style”. The grey lettering between also tells the shopper that inside they can keep their style fresh for spring break. Undoubtedly there will be a sign soon saying that the style for summer will be even better. Fall, winter, Christmas, back-to-school and a myriad of other seasons and events will all command new attention to revisit one’s wardrobe and update it. The mall, which gives the shopper a sense of security, eventually commands them to continue buying to keep that feeling fresh. As Ferrell, Hayward and Young point out, our new dream is to express ourselves meaningfully, and this means continually reinventing your identity (2008, 59). Furthermore, they point out that this task of expression and reinvention is “primarily scripted and marketed by way of mediated communications” (59).

The narrative sold to us is that no matter what our means we should buy in order to keep up. As Brown says, this leads us to shift our thinking from planning for an uncertain future to living one day at a time as evidenced by a boom in the credit industry (2000, 64). Our ontological insecurity is caused by messages that tell us things like “look at yourself and make a change” or “slim is in” as in the pictures below. We see people around us who have already bought the newest style and we do not want to be left out. Brown expresses that we conform as a defense mechanism to protect our inner self (2000, 64). By taking part in this struggle to satisfy our dreams of meaningful identity, we accept the narrative pushed by retailers in the Rideau Center, of continuous consumption. 

Time to change up how you look, feel and act with American Eagle!
Summer is approaching: what will you do in order to get thin and be able to wear our jeans?
Even the smallest purchase made can soothe your ontological insecurity. Old Navy does not even want to pester you with old fashioned fitting rooms anymore - use this, buy, and leave!
Jennifer Mitzen describes ontological insecurity as the fear of uncertainty which in turn threatens identity - this threat against one's identity then transforms into a difficulty to act and maintain a self-conception (2006, 345). The feeling of social uncertainty has become what Ferrell, Hayward and Young call a  “constant dynamo of existence” in this era of late modernity (2008, 58). Inequality between the poor and the rich continue to grow and the loss of secure first world income opportunities all contribute to this increased social uncertainty (57-59). This “dynamo of existence” is clearly observed with both locations of the Rideau Center and Bayshore Mall. The shopping centers are mutually filled with the same brands, particularly higher end gadgets, cosmetics and clothing. Those who spend there must have the money (or credit) to do so, yet, these spaces are located in either impoverished, low-income or areas without much money. The divide has never been made more clear – every day shoppers pass the homeless begging outside of the Rideau Center without so much as looking this person in the eyes and acknowledging them, let alone helping. Shoppers also drive past the low-income housing where the privacy of the tenants is no longer theirs – the privilege becomes the one with the dollar who can soothe their ontological insecurity by purchasing goods to remind themselves they are worth more than those people.

However, that which protects us, or what Brown calls the “veil [that] separates self from those that are external and therefore not self… [is also what provides] the most basic sense of ontological security” (2000, 63). When we are exposed to things outside ourselves, and how it compares to our idealized version of the world, we feel a sense of ontological insecurity (Brown, 2000, 63).  Students, for example, are constantly faced with questioning their sense of self and comparing to their peers. The need to perform academically makes us ask ourselves “are we doing enough? Are we doing the right thing? How will we measure up?” (Jones, 2007, 216). This also reflects the reality of the mall and students “performativity” in the sense of if they are dressed in a certain way, or if they have the right product like the new iPhone – This question of “performativity” is what Jones argues that creates a sense of ontological insecurity (216). By purchasing the latest items or that new dress, students at uOttawa are setting themselves a part from their peers, attempting to one up them and calm their ontological insecurity. The reality is, however, that students are some of the poorest populations that frequent shopping centers, but with the use of credit or loans, money is not an object so long as the excitement of purchasing keeps burning and happiness is sustained. According to Curtis, this "consumption is the new drug people take to overcome these feelings [of economic and the resulting political impotence]…This is the message people receive over and over again in our culture: consumption equals happiness…” (1994, 16-17).

This same notion of performativity can be seen with new immigrants as well - questions of how to fit in are at the forefront and it can be seen within shopping centers worldwide. In Ottawa, for example, we observed and talked to some individuals known to us. What we saw were families or groups of friends coming in from the low income housing across from Bayshore, and either sit around with a coffee or go into stores to browse. Most of the time nothing was purchased, it seemed to be more of an experience of being in the mall and a process of killing time. However, once accustomed, the ontological insecurity kicks in - one family known to Yadgar struggled a lot with money, as they were new immigrants here no longer than three years, yet, they purchased new iPhones retailing over $600. In an age where money is sparse for many, the ontological insecurity and self-talk is so strong that the urge to have something that claims a part of your status is more beneficial (for a time being) than it is to save.

Make the world, and yourself, better. Make the change today!
Another witty advertisement suggesting change...of your phone's cover. Nowadays, our cell phones need protection!


    Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.


    April 2013