World, World of the Story and World of the Narrative Environment

RELATED TERMS: Storyworld; Lifeworld - Lebenswelt - Umwelt); Dau Project

It could be argued that a narrative environment forms a ‘world’. What does this mean? The writer who perhaps best explains this in a way useful for the design of narrative environments is Jean-Luc Nancy. Nancy (2007) argues that two senses of the ‘world’ are generally conflated: the world as the givenness of all that exists; and the world as a globality of sense, a meaningful whole.

The former sense of ‘world’ is the sum total of things in existence, as in the phrase ‘everything in the world’. The latter, however, is a totality of meaning. For example, one can speak of Debussy’s world’, a Kafkaesque world or the world of James Joyce’s Ulysses. In such cases, one grasps that one is speaking of a totality, to which a certain meaningful content or a certain value system properly belongs. This relates closely to ‘the world of the story’ or to the notion of diégèse in Souriau’s and Genette’s sense.

A world in this latter sense means a meaningful, shared context. Worldhood here implies “an ethos, a habitus and an inhabiting” (Nancy, 2007, 42). Madden (2012) explains that a group of people who hold anything in common, living in proximity, or sharing vulnerability to disease, for example, can be said to be part of the same world in the first sense. However, in order to qualify as sharing a world in the second sense, they need to be able to form this aggregate world into something more sensible or inhabitable, to be able to communicate dialogically, for example, or to cooperatively transform the conditions of their coexistence (Madden, 2012, 775).

While narrative environment design is firstly concerned to create a world that has its own consistency and integrity, both narratively and environmentally, a second level of concern is that of the relationship between the world of the narrative environment and the lifeworld, which is of a critical and dialogic character. The encounter between the world of the narrative environment and the lifeworld takes place in the imaginary storyworld that the participant constructs through interaction with the narrative environment. This is to acknowledge the major and minor, and dominant and subordinate, narratives in play in ordering lifeworlds, even though the lifeworld as a lived experience does not simply follow a narrative structure. In other words, the historio-spatiality of the lifeworld is not reducible to a single homogeneous, explanatory narrative structure.


Madden, D.J. (2012). City becoming world: Nancy, Lefebvre, and the global-urban Imagination. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 30 (5), 772–787. Available from [Accessed 11 May 2019].

Nancy, J.-L. (2007). The creation of the world, or, Globalization. Albany. NY: State University of New York Press.