A metanarrative may be understood as a narrative about narration, for example, experimenting with or exploring the idea of storytelling by drawing attention to its own artificiality. In this sense, there are resonances with a Genettian conception of literary or narrative metalepsis, where boundaries between narrative levels are transgresed.

Possibly more importantly for the design of narrative environments, a metanarrative, otherwise known as a grand narrative, a master narrative or a narrative of mastery, is a term developed by Jean-François Lyotard, by which he intends a theory that seeks to give a totalising, comprehensive account to various historical events, experiences, and social, cultural phenomena based upon the appeal to universal truth or universal values.

In Lyotard’s theorisation, a narrative is a story that functions to legitimise power, authority and social customs. Thus, a metanarrative is one that claims to explain various events in history, giving them meaning by inter-connecting disparate events and phenomena through an appeal to some kind of universal knowledge or universal schema. Examples of such, often teleological, metanarratives include Marxism, religious doctrines, belief in progress and belief in universal reason.

The design of narrative environments may wish to draw to attention the metanarrative assumptions at play in particular sites, for example, monuments or squares celebrating a country’s imperial or colonial past.


Lyotard, J.-F. (1984) The Postmodern condition: a report on knowledge. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.

New World Encyclopedia contributors (2018) ‘Metanarrative’. New World Encyclopedia. [Accessed 12 March 2021]