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May 26, 2010 / Michelle Ferris

The Segregated Consumer: University Village


I spent time observing the geography and pedestrians within a particular shopping intersection at the University Village shopping center. The survey was of 200 pedestrians, 100 observed on November 6, 2006 at 11am, and 100 observed on November 11, 2006 at 1pm. Based on these data I came to my conclusions about the space, analyzing them in the context of the ideologies of consumption and keeping in mind the intersectionalities of gender and race. To supplement my initial observations, I monitored the customers within each retail space to give further depth to my conclusions about this section of University Village. I also casually spoke with store clerks in some of the stores to find out what makes up their clientele.

Area of Study

The space surveyed contains: sixteen stores, two fountains, five gardens, sixteen outdoor umbrella-topped tables, three benches, and children’s play area. The stores involved in the area I observed are: Nine West, Brighton, Kids Club, Chico’s, Hannah Anderson, L’Occitane en Provence, Sunglass Hut, Willow, Impress, Rosanna, Fireworks, Ralph Lauren Rugby, Pasta & Co, Caldwell’s, Sole Food, and Bryn Walker. Almost all of the area is covered by a translucent awning that spans the pedestrian area. A few small areas are not completely covered, but University Village management provides umbrellas for customers while they shop.

Map of Space Studied

Map of Space Studied: Map provided by University Village (, Alterations by Michelle Ferris

Literature Review & Analysis

Spaces of Consumption

Shopping malls were built to revitalize downtown areas, created as places to shop that are both a retail experience, and a lively community meeting place (Hardwick, 2004: 212). Victor Gruen, the innovative designer of the first mall, had envisioned malls with, “art, fountains, jungle gyms, a puppet theater, kiosks, and bandstands,” and has also built in social services and community-based programs (Hardwick, 2004: 212).

The openness of University Village, the abundance of foliage and art incorporated into the landscaping (i.e. fountains, trees, potted plants) creates a welcome atmosphere for shoppers to spend their time before, after, and in-between spending their money (Hardwick, 2004: 4). It has a centered, meditative feel to the mall, balancing the hectic drive of consumerism with natural elements (Simon, 1992: 23l; Hardwick, 2004: 4). The leisurely, pedestrian model of the mall is advertised as a “unique shopping experience” (See brochure; Simon, 1992: 234; Hardwick, 2004: 2, 212). And indeed, it is a place for shopping – but not much else.

Gruen ended his career in the U.S. when he realized that his ground-breaking, “environmental and humane ideas […had been] completely forgotten, […and] only those features which had proved profitable were copied” (Hardwick, 2004: 217). Gruen’s disappointment would ring true in University Village as well; there are no social services available in the mall that are not for-profit businesses. Indeed, University Village has been so well planned as a money-making venture that the other uses of “public” spaces in the mall are still related to work (i.e. dinner-breaks, interviews, and business luncheons). In the U.S. today, it is easy for mall planners to decide which stores go in – it is based on maximizing the profits made from their target clientele, and by picking their target wisely. The geographic location, gender and ethnicity of the residents or office employees around the mall tends to be what is represented in the mall’s products and marketing.

Class Tastes, Ethnic Realities

It is more pleasant to believe that University Village is simply a place for people to gather and meet each other. Or just a fun place to spend leisure time and relax. But this is only true if an individual is of the variety of clientele the mall is trying to attract; it is only true if one has the time and the economic freedom to spend money superfluously. Malls could be a place for social services, shared stories, cooing over each others’ children, and comparing ideas about the contemporary world. However, the homogeneity of the target consumers produces only limited viewpoints, creating an exclusionary group solidarity more than a diverse community.

DAY 1 Nov. 6 DAY 2 Nov. 11 TOTAL

200 total

PERCENTAGE (of total

mall survey population)

WOMEN 77 62 139 70%
MEN 22 38 61 30%
ETHNIC 11 16 27 13%
CHILDREN 17 18 35 n/a

(Table demonstrates the majority of shoppers as female and white)

Mall planners need to know which “class tastes” they are catering to; although it is exclusionary to some consumers, the right mall will attract a shopper that appreciates the leisurely art of consuming. In these middle or upper middle class malls, most of the products are a reflection of a fashionable lifestyle of consumption. These are the “conspicuous consumers” who not only subtly compete against each other but emulate each other and what they deem “high fashion” (Gronow, 1994: 29; Friedman, 1994: 4). The purpose of “[conspicuous consumption] lies in its social or more precisely symbolic evaluation of the consumer” (Friedman, 1994: 4). What the consumer is purchasing is a symbolic identity marker, signifying their belonging to the particular subculture in the “fashion community” with which they identify.

University Village Shared Spaces

University Village Shared Spaces

Wynter posits that the demographic necessities of the market today have, “created a direct economic incentive to broaden the racial and ethnic appeal of mainstream product advertising,” as, “the incomes and rates of consumption in most categories of goods and services are growing much faster for racial minorities than whites” (Wynter, 2002: 136). According to Wynter’s analysis, the market in University Village ought to represent a diverse consumer group. However, my observations showed otherwise, as only 27 people observed were visibly ethnic (four of which were University Village service / maintenance employees). [1] In fact, there were eight more children than ethnic adults tallied in my observations; this further supports my conclusion that University Village is a heteropatriarchal, non-diverse shopping center.[2] Wynter’s argument lacks the full breadth and impact of the limitations posed by the intersectionalities of marginalization and geography; especially limiting are the constructs of class and race, as it demonstrates the largest disparity. Friedman says that, “class is defined in terms of the amount of accumulated cultural capital” (Friedman, 1994: 7). As racial segregation in the U.S. officially ended only about fifty years ago, marginalized groups tend to have less economic and cultural capital. They have simply had less time to collect it. Thus, ethnic groups are often excluded as models in the advertisements and left out of the target consumer group; this is an observable omission in University Village. Racial segregation is institutionalized and reinforced through consumerism, as “it is the goods […] that define the distinctiveness of [the higher economic class, of] their superiority” (Friedman, 1994: 7).

The cultural relativity of products defines social relations in a way that permits entrance to, or isolates an individual from a group identity (Friedman, 1994: 6; Gronow, 1997: 13). Kant’s theorized a, “sensus communis: [a] community of fashion […as a] community of universal taste” (Gronow, 1994: 13). But Kant’s idea is not complete; it fails to take into account the fragmentation of this “whole community.” As Gronow says, simply, “[t]astes are class tastes” (1994: 28). In the community of fashion, lifestyles and habits of consumption are determined by an individual’s status. The members of a social class acquire tastes that tend to have a high level of homogeneity.

Ethnic and non-mainstream ideals are not made visible in this area of University Village, resulting in the attraction of a certain kind of clientele (or repelling of other possible consumer groups). It interpellates a certain class of people – people that can afford to spend $120 on a single outfit for their child (Hannah Anderson), $210 on a pair of boots (Nine West), or $68 on a small wallet/clutch (Fireworks). The homogeny of the pricing structures in the area only allows for a certain type of customer. Here, the products are marketed to women in the middle or upper-middle class. The ideals of this class are very much heteropatriarchal, non-diverse, and class-exclusionary – this is directly reflected in the type of marketing that is utilized, the models that are used, and the type of product that is sold (Wynter, 2002: 136).

Shared Spaces & Shop Windows

Shared Spaces & Shop Windows

A “shopping center’s success depend[s] on these economic and racial divides,” in a sense, keeping a diverse city segregated through the “common language of consumption,” with the added stipulation of class (Hardwick, 2004: 205). There is a vast difference in the type of store that is seen in Southcenter versus University Village; mall planners have to know the kind of clientele their area has the ability to attract (Rifkind, 1996: 267). Much of the disparity between a diverse and non-diverse mall is due to location – there are more ethnic minorities living near Southcenter. While Southcenter is very diverse, with many minority group shoppers, University Village is ethnically bland – there are very few minorities represented in the clientele or the marketing. Most minority groups in University Village are “passing” as whites, or hold service jobs.

Mall rules and regulations are constructed as a retreat from the conflicts in daily life by providing a clean, upscale, middle class place without the homeless, poor, marginalized, or otherwise disadvantaged to burden the conscience (Simon, 1992: 234, 244).

We don’t like to remember that the mall is an exclusive, private, profit-making domain […that…] targets very particular market segments, defined by age, income, lifestyle, and social values. No part of the mall welcomes the poor or the marginal. (Rifkind, 1996: 267)

Shopping malls do not pull us closer together as a community; they pull us together as conspicuous consumers. The feeling of a community is invoked so that we might justify the obvious fallacies of the shopping mall.

The Female Consumer

It is undeniable that the, “association of femininity and consumption remains nearly seamless” (Peiss, 1998: 1). Malls are planned for women more than anyone else. Children-friendly, “curbfree, [and] weatherproof,” spaces encourage mothers to shop and alleviate some of the isolation of suburban life (Weisman, 92: 45). University Village is marketed as family, stroller, pregnancy, and child friendly; my area of study is especially “mother with child” oriented, as it houses the only children’s play area in University Village. Most the retail styles represented in the area near the children’s play area target the age group of mid-to-late twenty-something women and older women. The storefronts and products are very female oriented in their advertising, design, color and product utility. The products with “utility” represent a busy mother’s lifestyle (i.e. heat-and-serve food from Pasta & Co), or one with some leisure time spent at home with children (such as the stamp crafts sold at Impress). The surrounding stores reflect the notion that women act as the primary caregiver for children.

The play area for children often becomes an informal drop-off point at which mothers exchange time shopping nearby stores without children for time babysitting other people’s children. It is similar to the community toggle childcare / play space of Bevington’s shared housing project, but on a level of consumerism, rather than community (Franck, 1994: 235). It forms a sense of safety in the area, in regards to children, and reinforces the ideals of the shopping mall (Gronow, 1997: 13; Rifkind, 1996: 267).

Notions about female consumers have had considerable staying power in product manufacturing and marketing. Female consumers have been blanketed by terms such as “emotional” and “impulsive,” driven by dreamy desires and vague lusts, longings to purchase that are nothing like the stereotypical male experience of shopping on a needs / necessity basis. They responded differently to products; “[i]f men responded to the intrinsic qualities and function of a product, women dwelled on its social and psychological effects, its style and smartness” (Peiss, 1998: 9).It has long been believed that women make purchases based on how they feel when they are shopping. This gives retail an assumption on which they can base their marketing strategies.

A large part of a mall’s success comes from the geography and landscaping of the mall itself, and these can be changed to cater to specific groups. The “Gruen Effect” states that, “shoppers will be so bedazzled by a store’s surroundings that they will be drawn – unconsciously, continually – to shop” (Hardwick, 2004: 2). Malls work to put women in, “the mood of buying,” with “[a]ttention-getting banners, vivid signs, dramatic lighting, seductive color schemes, lush plantings, upbeat music, and soothing sounds;” all of these mentioned by Rifkind were noted to be plentiful at University Village (Rifkind, 1996: 262). They all work to create physiological responses by, “alternately stimulating and relaxing the visitor until she is freed from the normal constraints,” and is completely immersed in the interpellation of mall décor and atmosphere (Rifkind, 1996: 263).

The mall is “the T.V. you walk around in,” says [one mall patron]. A kaleidoscopic extravaganza of shopfront logos, copious piles of brand-name merchandise, New Wave music, [and] sparkling lights […] [T]he mall can transform passivity into desire with only the sketchiest of images. A quick glimpse of the Eiffel Tower is enough to evoke romance and adventure. (Rifkind, 1996: 265)

The entirety of the mall is based on, “[t]heatricality, illusion, pretense, manipulation, and artifice[…] The shopper must buy, although the operator feigns that it is otherwise” (Rifkind, 1996: 262). It is meant to feel like a stroll through a garden or park, or a day at the theme park. The garden, once, “devoted to the pleasures and temptations of retirement,” has evolved into the shopping mall, “devoted to the pleasures and temptations of consumption” (Franklin, 1992: 234). Both the garden and the mall represent an, “idealized view of the world;” however, they utilize different avenues to achieve similar emotional and psychological responses (Franklin, 1992: 234; Hardwick, 2004: 4, 39). A certain level of safety, or the impression of being safe (even if it is not necessarily so), is required for a place to cater specifically to women – University Village accomplishes this with frequent rounds from security and maintenance employee and high visibility between shoppers and employees, as nearly all of University Village’s storefronts are glass. The feeling of safety gives the area a comfortable feel that could be likened to a feel of “community,” though in reality, the mall is a pseudo-community, at best. They are not so much a place to interact with each other as they are a place to interact with products.

Brighton, Nine West, Chico’s, Willow, Bryn Walker and Caldwell’s sell exclusively women’s clothing and accessories, and Sole Food carries only 5 styles of men’s shoes. Kids Club and Hannah Anderson cater to women shopping for their children. Rosanna, Impress, and Fireworks all catch the female eye with their pinks, sparkles, arts and crafts, and the glitter and shine of both the products and the décor. They have set up their stores to “Gruenize” women (Hardwick, 2004: 2). I observed the behaviors of the men inside Chico’s and Bryn Walker (both clothing retailers) for their reactions to the setting. They appeared uncomfortable, shifting in their seats or pacing small, product-free sections of the floor. Alongside products, lighting, atmosphere and a mostly female staff that caters to women’s needs, the reactions of the men make it apparent that these are areas for female consumption.

A store clerk at Fireworks also confirmed my belief that it was a female-oriented store. “Definitely,” she agreed, “except for the men buying gifts for women” (06 Nov 06). Though the crafty, artistic feel appears to be less gender specific, the utility of most the items (kitchen / baby) and the accessories (women’s jewelry and handbags) gives away the target group. A store clerk at Impress (a craft and stamp retailer) said that their customers were, “almost exclusively women,” to which her co-worker enthusiastically agreed (06 Nov 06). Of the 200 people observed, 139 were women, a fact that supports my conclusion of University Village as female oriented.

Advertising and Shop Windows

Advertising and Shop Windows

Many of the images presented to women in the mall invoke ideas of security in a heterosexist setting, or visions of glamour, flirtation and seduction (Longhurst, 1998: 24).  A woman can look upon the sexualized images of other women and, “imagine that she is looking at them in order to learn how to make herself desirable for her man” (Lewis, 1998: 466). However, it can also be read as women looking at other women with the “lesbian gaze,” reading these ads as marketing to them, rather than about them (Lewis, 1998: 464). “Consumer culture thrives on heterosexuality and its institutions,” and as a result, women are often placed with men in photographs, eliminating alternative readings of the advertisement and reducing it to a heterosexist perspective (Clark, 1993: 186).

A class-exclusionary, homogenous, heterosexist ideology is prevalent in much of University Village’s advertisements, products and stores. In the storefronts with photographic banners hanging, all the models pictured are thin, attractive, and white, and often can be assumed to be heterosexual. The advertisements are meant to concurrently attract a type of consumer and reflect back to the clientele their own idealized “mirror” image; the assumption is that their clientele adheres to this system of beliefs.

The banners in Hannah Anderson’s windows promote this idealism. The right window pictures the dual-parent “American Dream Family” – a Caucasian father, mother, and two children. The husband takes the “tallest” position in the photo, visually emphasizing his relation to the rest of the family as leader, and the mother takes a lateral position to the two children that is just slightly raised above them. Not only does the photograph promote the “single-family” life of an idealized America, but promotes it from a heteropatriarchal perspective (Frisch, 1995: 255-260). The banner in the left window pictures a little girl kissing a little boy on the cheek. While this banner seems innocuous, it inadvertently promotes heterosexism. If this kiss on the cheek between children is as innocent as the viewer is made to believe, then why not use two little boys? The values ascribed to are heterosexual values – any deviation from the cultural “norm” would not be “appropriate” in this setting. Nine West also sells the heterosexual identity. Their banner is of a young woman grabbing the behind of a young man, the text below reading, “Grab and Go;” Nine West has conveniently prepackaged heterosexuality as a commodity to be consumed.

The mall atmosphere creates a desire to consume conspicuously – identity is not formed through the value of self-to-self or self-to-others, but through the symbolic cultural value of consumable goods (Rifkind, 1996: 264; Friedman, 1994: 6-12). Even gender-neutral stores (in regards to product), such as Sunglass Hut, pictures sexualized women on large banners in their window. The idea is that women will buy because it helps them self-identify as beautiful women. The newly purchased, “transformed self,” is, in reality, an “introverted self, based on your own opinion” (Rifkind, 1996: 264). It is an easy way to become a new you, even if it is a superficial, mediated identity.

Shopping is viewed as a very “individualistic act,” but in fact, one is only purchasing into the prepackaged identities that have been provided by the establishments (Simon, 1992: 238). Identities are not spontaneously or independently created; capitalism mass produces these identities for us to consume (Frisch, 2002: 256). Consumerism only feeds itself, propelled by the dream of achieving a certain lifestyle, the attainment of the “American Dream,” and hopes for the, “good life, which always ends in deception and a search for yet other styles and goods” (Friedman, 1994: 168). Only when an individual has made enough money to “establish a life as an individual” can they procure a “real” identity (Frisch, 2002: 256). Consumption is a way to experience the differences and distinctions that goods and their cultural content provide in the “subjective fantasy” that is individualism (Friedman, 1994: 11).


As a young Asian American woman, I did not feel personally called to by any of the advertising, as I felt it did not reflect my own identity. Nor could I relate to the other mall patrons; as a college student, I have not achieved a financial situation that would allow me to “Shop ‘Till I Drop” at University Village. I attempted to make clear, unbiased observations and present an impartial analysis of the shopping center, and feel I have achieved it. Upon reading the literature, I had hoped that University Village would prove wrong the authors’ judgments that separationist ideals are built into shopping malls; disappointingly, I found that for the most part, my observations supported their arguments.

University Village is a typified example of a mall that perpetuates the heteropatriarchal and institutionalized segregation by class, race and gender. The majority of the advertising, stores, and commodities are directed at women. University Village presents an image of itself as inclusive, appearing welcoming to all, and especially those living the “family life,” but in reality, only welcomes those living a family lifestyle that is middle-class or above, and non-ethnic.

Works Cited

Clark, Danae (1993) “Commodity Lesbianism,” in Henry Abelove, Michele Aina Barale and David M. Halperin (eds.) The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader, Routledge: New York and London, pp. 186-201.

Franck, Karen A. (1994) “Questioning the American dream: Recent housing innovation in the United States,” in Rose Gilroy and Roberta Woods (eds.) Housing Women, Routledge: London and New York, pp. 226-246.

Friedman, Jonathan (1994) Consumption and Identity, Harwood Academic Publishers: Switzerland, pp. 1-171.

Frisch, Michael (2002) “Planning as a heterosexist project,” Journal of Planning Education and Research, 21: pp. 254-266

Gronow, Jukka (1997). The Sociology of Taste, Routledge: London and New York, pp. 13-73.

Hardwick, M. Jeffrey (2004) Mall Maker, University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, pp. 1-220.

Lewis, Reina (1998) “Looking Good: The lesbian gaze and fashion imagery,” in Nicholas Mirzoeff (ed.) Visual Culture Reader, Routledge: New York, 1998.

Longhurst, Robyn (1998) “(Re)presenting shopping centres and bodies,” in Rosa Ainley (ed.) New Frontiers of Space, Bodies and Gender, Routledge: London and New York, pp. 20-34.

Peiss, Kathy L. accessed 11/06. “American Women and the Making of Modern Consumer Culture,” in The Journal for MultiMedia History 1, (1) Fall 1998.

Rifkind, Carole (1996) “America’s Fantasy Urbanism: The Waxing of the Mall and the Waning of Civility,” in Katharine Washburn and John Thorton (eds.) Dumbing Down: Essays on the Strip Mining of American Culture, W.W.Norton & Company: New York and London, pp. 259-269.

Simon, Richard Keller (1992) “The Formal Garden in the Age of Consumer Culture: A Reading of the Twentiesth – Century Shopping Mall,” in Wayne Franklin and Michael Steiner (eds.) Mapping American Culture, University of Iowa Press: Iowa City, pp. 231-250.

University Village brochure. Online resource: accessed 11/06.

Valentine, G. (1989) “The geography of women’s fear” in Area 21 (4), pp. 385-390.

Weisman, Leslie K. (1992) “Public architecture and social status,” in her Discrimination by Design: A Feminist Critique of the Man-Made Environment, University of Illinois Press: Urban and Chicago, pp. 35-66.

Wynter, Leon (2002) American Skin, Crown Publishers: New York, pp. 136-141.

[1] I gave liberal room in this judgement of “whiteness” – anyone who was not starkly white, or passing as such, I categorized as “ethnic” for this tally.

[2] Children were not counted in the total count of 200 adults.



© 2006 Michelle Ferris

Geography 476: England

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