Design of Narrative Environments

RELATED TERMS: Avant-garde movements; Design practice and functionalism; Feminism - Material feminism; Postmodernism; Sculpture; Theoretical practice; Tragic theatre - Aristotle; World-forming, World-making, World-building; Situationist International; Epic theatre - Brecht); Historical materialism - Marxism; Modernity; Latour; Human Actantiality; Dissensus - Ranciere

Similarly to post-structuralist literary and cultural theories, but differing significantly from them in stressing the complex relational materiality of designed entities rather than seemingly reducing all materiality to the homogeneity of ‘textual’ relations, the design of narrative environments emphasises the constructed, mediated, performative and immersive character of all our experiences.

There is no single approach or methodology for designing narrative environments although, whatever the approach, a narrative environment is taken to be a more or less complex whole or assemblage, although not necessarily a unified whole or totality, integrating different kinds of material reality, in short a narrative environment may be said to constitute a ‘world’, with its ontological assumptions about what exists and can exist in this ‘world’. While forming a ‘world’ as a form of sphere or envelope, a ‘world’ that is co-created by the designer, the design and the participants who enter the designed narrative environment, narrative environments remain open or porous to the other ‘worlds’ in relation to which they exist.

For example, developing an actantial approach, taking its orientation from the work of A.J. Greimas, Jacques Lacan and Bruno Latour, a narrative environment may be considered to be articulated from three main classes or kinds of actant, narrative actants, environmental actants and human actants, each of which act upon the others and become entangled to form a complex whole or field of actantiality.

Alternatively, in an approach which relies more heavily upon the terminology employed by Etienne Souriau, Christian Metz and Gerard Genette, this complex whole may be termed diégèse.

The design of narrative environments could be seen as part of a post-Humanist, non-instrumentalist, materialist approach to understanding and re-designing the ‘real’ or ‘actual’ world, in which human agency is not taken to be the centre of the world but is an emergent phenomenon within, for example, a sphere (Sloterdijk), a network (Latour) or a living system (Maturana and Varela). It therefore partakes in the ‘ontological turn’ in design, in particular a relational ontology, as discussed, for example, by Escobar (2013).


Escobar, A. (2013). Notes on the ontology of design [Draft paper]. Available from [Accessed 4 September 2016].