World-forming, World-making, World-building

RELATED TERMS: Theoretical practice; Design of Narrative environments; Sloterdijk; Arendt; Heidegger; Ontology; Lifeworld - Lebenswelt - Umwelt; Terraforming

As noted elsewhere, for example in the Design of Narrative Environments entry and the Theoretical Practice entry, a narrative environment may be said to constitute a world, and its approach to design could be considered ontological. The philosophical sources for this kind of thinking can be found in phenomenology, notably in the work of Heidegger, Arendt, Merleau-Ponty and Sloterdijk, as well as in anthropology. From the perspective of the design of narrative environments, as a transmedia practice, world-making, world-forming or world-building practices are design practices, albeit of differing degrees of complexity.

Thus, as Lemmens (2013) explains, like Heidegger, Sloterdijk conceives of humans as world-forming beings. For Sloterdijk, however, humans are never in the world nakedly or without protection, so to speak. They always reside in spheres. Another difference between them is that while Heidegger was principally engaged in the analysis of human being-in-the-world, Sloterdijk is more interested in the process of coming-into-the-world. Picking up on the theme of natality from Hannah Arendt, Sloterdijk emphasises that we all have to come to the world in order to be in it. We are born, but too soon (Elden and Mendieta, 2009: 5).

In Arendt’s (1958: 96) view, ‘world’ emerges from the work of homo faber, which she distinguishes from the labour of the animal laborans, the latter leaving no persistent trace of its labour. Thus, Arendt argues,

“Human life, in so far as it is world-building, is engaged in a constant process of reification, and the degree of worldliness of produced things, which all together form the human artifice, depends upon their greater or lesser permanence in the world itself.”

In the context of the design of narrative environments, the product of ‘work’ is considered to be ‘designed’. Thus, the traces by means of which the world is constituted are ‘designs’.

For Sloterdijk, coming-into-the-world essentially consists in the process of sphero-poiesis, the creation of protective, immunising inner worlds or inner spaces. Sloterdijk’s Spheres trilogy presents a grand cultural-historical panorama of the process of the sphero-poietic “coming-into-the-world” and, thereby, the “coming-into-being”, of the human being as the ek-sisting and world-disclosing being Heidegger described in Being and Time.

Rauschenbach (2011) further explains that, from Sloterdijk’s point of view, the ontological starting point of human existence is the womb of the mother. Therefore, co‐existence precedes existence. There is no being without being‐in‐something, initially in the uterus. Life is always life‐in‐between‐of‐life. From the beginning and at all times, the human being is surrounded by something that cannot appear as an object. It is the indiscernible complement of one’s own existence, with which one forms a pair.

To contain the infiniteness of space and to create spaces in which sharing can be experienced, Sloterdijk suggests speaking of human spheres (contexts of and for understanding). The shared space is isolated from the rest of the infinite space. Within the sphere, the space can be manipulated. These manipulations can result in specific climates. Sloterdijk uses the term climate not only to denominate a meteorological state, but also to refer to nine dimensions, which altogether characterize the climate of human spheres.

Sloterdijk conceptualizes the human sphere as a nine‐dimensional greenhouse (chirotope, phonotope, uterotope, thermotope, erotope, ergotope, alethotope, thanatotope, nomotope) in which human beings are able to survive and consequently can develop complexities beyond their animalistic heritage. Each of the nine dimensions can attain different degrees of implicitness and explicitness. An individual on its own is not able to survive. It depends on being part of a sphere, populated by others. Sloterdijk’s ontological starting point is therefore unthinkable without the other as it is the collaborative mode with the other that allows for positively influencing the climate within a sphere.

Such thinking can also be used to consider and gain a critical appreciation of the contemporary global conjuncture which, Escobar (2016) contends, can be best characterised by the fact that we are facing modern problems for which there are no longer modern solutions. Ontologically speaking, Escobar continues, one may say that the crisis is the crisis of a particular world or set of world-making practices, the world that we usually refer to as the dominant form of Euro-modernity, i.e. capitalist, rationalist, liberal, individualist, secular, patriarchal, white, and so on.

World-building in media and transmedia practices

In the context of transmedia practices, Jenkins (2016) notes, the concept of world-building emerged from fantasy and science fiction. Nevertheless, it has also been applied to fictions of a documentary or historical character. Thus, fictional texts imagine and design new worlds; documentaries investigate and map existing worlds. From the point of view of the design of narrative environments, both forms exist in a critical relation to existing worlds, drawing attention to specific features of the constitution of thise worlds, and by exploring multiple points of view or competing realities.

As Jenkins explains,

“Worlds are systems with many moving parts (in terms of characters, institutions, locations) that can generate multiple stories with multiple protagonists that are connected to each other through their underlying structures. Part of what drives transmedia consumption is the desire to dig deeper into these worlds, to trace their backstories and understand their underlying systems.”

An example of the use of the term ‘world-building’ in the context of cinema can be found in Simran Hans (2021) review of the film Cruella (2021). Hans writes, “Set in 1970s London against the backdrop of the emerging punk scene, this playful prequel [to 101 Dalmations] by Craig Gillespie … is a fine feat of world-building”.


Donna Haraway also uses the term ‘reworlding’ to refer to the actions taken to address or mitigate the problems arising during the Anthropocene.


Arendt, H. (1958). The Human condition. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Elden, S. and Mendieta, E. (2009). Being-with as making worlds: the ‘second coming’ of Peter Sloterdijk. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 27 (1), 1–11. Available from [Accessed 7 September 2016].

Escobar, A. (2016). Thinking-feeling with the Earth: territorial struggles and the ontological dimension of the Epistemologies of the South. AIBR, Revista de Antropología Iberoamericana, 11 (1), 11–32. Available from [Accessed 5 September 2016].

Hans, S. (2021). Cruella. Observer, New Review p.27.

Jenkins, H. (2016) Transmedia what?, Immerse. Available at: (Accessed: 8 April 2021).

Lemmens, P. (2013). Review essay: Sloterdijk. ID: International Dialogue, a Multidisciplinary Journal of World Affairs, 3 101–114. Available from [Accessed 9 January 2016].

Rauschenbach, R. (2011). How to govern the universalizing community: Peter Sloterdijk’s concept of co-immunism. In: 6th ECPR General Conference, University of Iceland, 25th – 27th August 2011. Reykyavik: University of Iceland. Available from [Accessed 25 August 2014].