Object-oriented ontology

RELATED TERMS: New Materialism; Postanthropocentrism; Posthuman; Posthumanism; Speculative realism; Actor Network Theory

As an inheritor of the line of thinking developed by actor-network theory, on the one hand, and phenomenology, on the other hand, object-oriented ontology (OOO) may be of interest to narrative environment design, in as far as it concerns the relationship between the human and the non-human.

Graham Harman (2016) contrasts his own theory, which he calls object-oriented ontology, with actor-network theory and new materialism. Rather than replacing objects with descriptions of what they do, as does actor-network theory, or what they are made of, as in traditional materialism, object-oriented ontology uses the term ‘object’ “to refer to any entity that cannot be paraphrased in terms of either its components or its effects” (Harman, 2016: 3).

New materialism, according to Harman, engages in undermining (downward reduction of objects to their physical components, what a thing is made of), overmining (upward reduction of objects to their socio-political effects, what a thing does) and duomining (combining undermining and overmining in a two-fold reduction), thereby ignoring the object itself (the Kantian thing-in-itself?). Harman (2016: 28-29) argues that the limitation of undermining is that it cannot explain emergence; while the limitation of overmining is that it cannot explain change.

In the words of Ian Bogost (2012: 6),

“OOO puts things at the center of being. We humans are elements, but not the sole elements, of philosophical interest. OOO contends that nothing has special status, but that everything exists equally—plumbers, cotton, bonobos, DVD players, and sandstone, for example. In contemporary thought, things are usually taken either as the aggregation of ever smaller bits (scientific nat- uralism) or as constructions of human behavior and society (social relativism). OOO steers a path between the two, drawing attention to things at all scales (from atoms to alpacas, bits to blinis) and pondering their nature and relations with one another as much with ourselves.”

For a sense of how object-oriented ontology has been applied in art, see the article by Dylan Kerr (2016) who explains that object-oriented ontology, along with intertwined companion speculative realism, is dedicated to exploring the reality, agency, and “private lives” of nonhuman and nonliving entities, all of which it considers “objects”, coupled with a rejection of anthropocentric ways of thinking about and acting in the world.


Bogost, I. (2012). Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Harman, G. (2016). Immaterialism. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

Kerr, D. (2016). What is object-oriented ontology? A quick-and-dirty guide to the philosophical movement sweeping the art world. Artspace, 8 April. Available from [Accessed 11 November 2016].