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Benjamin Cherry-Smith
University of the Sunshine Coast

Ontological insecurity occurs when a subject – either an individual or a state – has experienced a fear event which has developed into anxiety. The fear event is the initial motivator in the development of ontological insecurity and gets translated into the motivating anxiety within the subject’s new security narrative. However, current uses of ontological security theory within international relations literature treat anxiety as situationally subjective, being defined by the subject within their security narrative. This situation, while in keeping with the theory as proposed by Anthony Giddens in his book Modernity and Self-Identity, means that anxiety’s role within analyses has less of an importance.

Drawing from Laing’s work on ontological insecurity, this paper proposes three categories of anxiety – implosion, engulfment, and petrification. Initially outlined in his book The Divided Self, these three categories look at how a subject would become insecure, due to not having a fully coherent sense of Self and as a result, lose their identity when interacting with others (implosion). The subject could become part of something, either a structure or another subject, larger than themselves, either willingly or by force, becoming a new entity (engulfment), or if the subject becomes stuck in a set of routines which limit their actions (petrification). These categories of anxiety would maintain the subjectivity of anxiety while being broad enough to allow for different situations to be compared.

Benjamin Cherry-Smith is a Master of Arts (Research) candidate at the University of the Sunshine Coast, where he researches the impact of ontological in/security within international relations and politics. He also holds a Master of International Relations and a Bachelor of Government and International Relations from Griffith University and a Graduate Diploma of Public Policy from the University of Tasmania.

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