Photograph: Rainer Lück - 17 July 2009 - Used under CC BY-SA 3.0 licence

Photograph: Rainer Lück – 17 July 2009 – Used under CC BY-SA 3.0 licence

The work of German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk (1947-) has direct relevance for the design and analysis of narrative environments. As with all theorists, his work may be considered to constitute a particular kind of text-based narrative environment as well as a particular kind of environmental discourse (i.e. discourse about the environment and environment as discourse and as apparatus) [1].

Sloterdijk argues, following through on the initial Heideggerian insight, that Dasein (there-being or here-being), i.e. ‘being thrown into the world’, is to be thrown into an envelope of some kind, To define humans is to define the envelopes, the life support systems, that make it possible for them to breathe, to live. Furthermore, all of the envelopes or life support systems into which people are born (‘thrown’) are artificial, constructed, designed. These envelopes are called ‘spheres’ by Sloterdijk, and the study of them he calls spherology.

It would be very fruitful, from the point of view of designing a narrative environment to engage with Sloterdijk’s theory of spheres, bubbles and foam, i.e. different scales of envelope, as processes of environing, immersing and insulating (from hostility and danger) which are folded and/or embedded into one another, potentially in the form of a knot or a torus or a “strange loop” (Hofstadter, 1979).

Sloterdijk also suggests that human beings oscillate between the desire to be embedded (immersed, insulated) and the desire to break free (transgress, flow, mingle). Nevertheless, this ‘breaking free’ is a process of moving from one envelope to another, wherein may be found further or other life support systems.

It could also prove fruitful to relate Sloterdijk’s enfolded -spheres to Gerard Genette’s notion of diegetic levels in a narrative, which also implies processes of framing or embedding, in order to complement narrative complexity with environmental complexity: stories within stories within environments within environments.

This may also yield an interesting way of exploring the processes of metalepsis [2], wherein the boundaries or borders between levels or spheres or ‘worlds’ of narratives and of environments are transgressed, so that one level or sphere, which does not seem to belong there, emerges or appears within another in a disruptive manner. This may also enable a development of the argument, as expressed for example by Ryan (2006), that there are two main types of metalepsis: rhetorical, as discussed by Genette; and ontological, as discussed by Brian McHale.


[1] For a lengthier discussion of Sloterdijk and narrative environments, see Parsons (2016, 28 Feb)

[2] For a comprehensive discussion of metalepsis, see Pier (2013).


Hofstadter, Douglas (1979). Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid. New York: Basic Books.

Latour, B. (2009a). A Cautious Prometheus ? A few steps toward a philosophy of design (with special attention to Peter Sloterdijk ). In: Hackney, F., Glynne, J., and Minto, V., eds. Networks of design: proceedings of the 2008 Annual International Conference of the Design History Society. Boca Raton: Universal Publishers. Available from [Accessed 10 August 2012].

Latour, B. (2009b). Spheres and networks: two ways to reinterpret globalisation. Harvard Design Magazine, 30 138–144.

Pier, J. (2013). Metalepsis. The Living handbook of narratology. Available from [Accessed 28 February 2016].

Parsons, A. (2016, 28 Feb). Sloterdijk and Narrative environments. Poiesis and Prolepsis [Blog], 28 February. Available from [Accessed 28 February 2016].

Ryan, M.-L. (2006). Metaleptic machines. In: Avatars of story. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 204–230.

Sloterdijk, P. (2011). Architecture as an art of immersion. Interstices, 12, 105–109. Available from [Accessed 9 January 2016].

edited 16 October, 2016 by Allan Parsons

Associated Practices

As noted elsewhere, for example in the ‘Narrative environment design’ 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.

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. 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.”

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 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 (2004, p. 309). 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 (2004, p. 362).

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, secular, patriarchal, white, and so on.

Furthermore, of particular relevance to narrative environment design, such world-making, world-forming or world-building practices are design practices.


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].

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].

edited 25 November, 2016 by Allan Parsons

It could be argued that a narrative environment forms a complex ‘whole’, a ‘totality’ or a ‘system’ of some kind, one that involves human, non-human and environmental value systems, for which suitable conceptual frameworks that encompass all these dimensions satisfactorily are difficult to find, as is discussed by Frederiksen et al. (2014). One way of expressing this ‘wholeness’, that is not a unity but an ensemble or assembly, is that it constitutes a ‘world’

Although an output of design thinking and design practice, a narrative environment is not simply a ‘whole’ in the form of a ‘product’, ‘commodity’ or ‘artefact’; nor is it a ‘whole’ in the form of a ‘media product’ or a ‘service’ in any simple sense. In other words, designing a narrative environment is not simply product design, media practice nor service design; and, furthermore, while narrative environments deploy typography and graphics, nor is it a version of graphic design, for example environmental graphics or wayfinding. In many ways, the design of narrative environments is closer to such practices as interaction design (now that it has moved away from its initial focus on computer interface design) and experience design (but, again, not necessarily in such forms as user-experience design or UX design, which is mainly organised around advertising and brand experience).

The general argument articulated here is that narrative environments ‘act’ and have effect on people in the world, i.e. they are ‘practical’, but they are not simply functional or instrumental in their mode of action; nor, indeed are they simply ‘aesthetic’. This requires a subtle understanding of (social) ‘practice’, which requires a theory of actantiality, incorporating agency and potentiality.

In seeking to find methods and concepts for thinking about the design of narrative environments as ‘wholes’, other than those which resort to a distinction between form (as ‘aesthetics’) and function (both as purpose and as mode of action), it may be valuable to think of narrative environments as ‘open systems’. Other metaphors which may prove useful in the initial stages of thinking about the openness of narrative environments are dynamic systems, networks, spheres, worlds, societies, communities or situations. In this context, while a narrative environmental ‘whole’ may contain structures, they are part of more dynamic processes which, in some way, operate together to form a (more or less temporary) ‘whole’.

From a methodological perspective, in the early stages, it is important not to think of modes of action of this narrative environmental ‘whole’ in empiricist terms, e.g. not to think of a narrative environment as a building, a museum, a school, a factory, an office, a home, or indeed, a city or a country. To do so is potentially to foreclose design thinking and design practice around existing functionalist aesthetics from which it would be difficult to break free, without an extensive critical practice, for example, ‘deconstructing’ (Derrida) the existing ‘distribution of the sensible’ (Ranciere) to enact a re-distribution of the sensible (as in some forms of avant-garde art practice). It is also important not to think of this narrative environmental ‘whole’ in universalist terms, which assumes an abstract universality of time and space, a singular humanity and a common experience, all of which would be misleading. A finer-grained approach, incorporating plurality and diversity, is needed.

In other words, an approach to the design of narrative environments is needed which can, on the one hand, question the taken for granted assumptions of existing categories and practices; and, on the other hand, allow for the plurality of human experiences. It is also important that such design thinking and practice admits that the outputs are open to ‘chance’ or ‘happenstance’, that its mode of action and effectuality cannot be fully foreseen or foreclosed.

Thinking about such matters as how ‘wholes’ are constituted has been underway at least since the end of World War Two. One of the initial problematics being tackled in that post-1945 period was the issue of ‘totalitarianism’, i.e. of the constitution of a ‘whole’ which was so deterministic that it left no room for freedom of action and interaction, no matter whether this took the form of ‘communistic’ regime or of a ‘fascistic’ regime, such as is raised by the work of Hannah Arendt.

Since that time, a whole range of theories have emerged that seek to address this issue of a ‘whole’ that not a totalitarian unity (e.g. post-Marxist thinking and new materialist thinking) nor a universal uniformity (e.g. post-Humanist and post-structuralist thinking). In more recent times, since the early to mid-1970s, several new problematiques have arisen around the notions of ‘globalisation’, ‘neoliberalism’ and ‘neoconservatism’, with their concerns to define a single, unified ‘world’ governed by the principles of a presumed (and presumptuous) capitalistic ‘free market’.

For example, the design of narrative environments could valuably be thought through in terms of their possibly being:

distributions of the sensible (Ranciere)

apparatuses or dispositifs (Foucault, Deleuze, Agamben, Barad)

biopolitical regimes (Foucault, Agamben)

actor-networks (Latour, Callon, Law)

actant-rhizome ontologies (Latour)

rhizomes (Deleuze and Guattari)

machinic assemblages (Deleuze and Guattari)

socio-techical assemblages (Schatzki)

agencements (Deleuze and Guattari)

story worlds (world-making #1) (Jenkins; Tsing)

autopoietic systems (Luhmann, Maturana and Varela)

spheres, bubbles and foam (Sloterdijk)

assemblages (De Landa, Braidotti)

fields of actantiality (Greimas, Latour)

fields of spatial (social) practice (Lefebvre)

fields of habitus (Bourdieu)

learning environments (Tovey)

nature-cultures (Haraway)

onto-epistemologies (Haraway, Barad)

cybernetic organisms (Haraway)

open systems (e.g. Ludwig von Bertanlanffy)

world systems (e.g. Wallerstein)

world, Liebenswelt, Umwelt (world-making #2) (e.g. Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty)

complex systems

dynamic systems

As may now be obvious, the assumption behind employing the above kinds of theorisation is that they become necessary when one recognises that narrative environments are never neutral. Attention must be paid to the ways in which they invite, welcome, include and promise some people and are uninviting, unwelcoming, exclusive and unpromising to others, a situation which may be part of a larger scale processes of ‘othering’ more generally. Furthermore, one cannot assume a neutral ‘outside’ or ‘common ground’: as one exits one narrative environment, one enters another, even if this is new domain is defined as ‘public space’.

A narrative environment, as an outcome of design thinking and design practice, is a response to a situation, and in the form of its responsiveness it evinces a ‘philosophy’, both in the sense of a ‘methodology’, i.e. a characteristic way of using it, realised through a set of practical interactions, but not simply reducible to them; and in the sense of an ‘atmosphere’, a characteristic way of feeling or experiencing it.

In thinking about narrative environments in this way, as open systems that require come kind of theorisation to understand the nature of their openness and connectedness, you will be able to articulate them within appropriate theoretical horizons, albeit possibly shifting horizons, thereby incorporating insights from such domains as feminist theories, post-Humanist theories, New Materialist theories, speech act theory, complexity theory, chaos theory and post-Marxist theory and possibly even insights from Buddhist thinking.

In short, you will be able to approach the design of narrative environments with an array of suitable critical and creative thinking methodologies in the form of ‘philosophies’ and/or ‘tools’ for thinking through what is happening and may happen.


Fredriksen, A. et al. (2014). A conceptual map for the study of value. An initial mapping of concepts for the project ‘Human, non-human and environmental value systems: an impossible frontier?’ LCSV Working Paper Series. Manchester, UK: School of Environment, Education and Development, University of Manchester. Available from [Accessed 28 May 2015].

edited 2 April, 2018 by Allan Parsons

Associated Terms

As one particular understanding or interpretation of ‘lifeworld’ or ‘being-in-the-world’ or, indeed, the everyday, the notion of Dasein may be of particular interest in the design and understanding of narrative environments. It may also be of use in seeking to grasp the character of human action, whether understood in the form of will, agency, performativity or actantiality, in the context of an articulated narrative world (diegesis, storyworld) and lifeworld (e.g. actant-network ontology or actant-rhizome ontology).

Dasein is a German word that translates literally as ‘there [da] being [Sein]’ or ‘being there’. While Dasein’s root meaning is usually rendered in English as ‘Being there’, it is equally valid to translate it as ‘Being-here’. Dasein means inhabiting and existing as a Here, a site within which Being and beings can meaningfully appear (Fried and Polt, 2014: xi).

In everyday German, the word Dasein is used just as the word ‘existence’ is used in English. However, Heidegger viewed the Latin term existentia as misleading and superficial. In Being and Time (1927) Heidegger, gives the term a specific philosophical significance. Prior to Heidegger, Dasein commonly referred to the being of persons. Heidegger follows and intensifies the common usage.

Dasein is defined in Being and Time as that being for whom Being itself is at issue, for whom Being, especially its own Being, is in question. For the most part, for Heidegger, this being is the human being although, as Fried and Polt (2014: xi) note, Dasein not simply equivalent to humans. It may help to think of Dasein, Fried and Polt suggest, as a condition into which human beings enter, either individually or collectively, at a historical juncture when the Being of beings becomes an issue for them, or Being as the event of meaningful disclosure takes place for them.

As distinct from the mode of being of a present-at-hand entity (object or artefact) or a ready-to-hand entity (tool or instrument), Dasein is by existing as a self-related being, for whom its own Being, as an individuality through a collectivity, is at issue as it goes about inhabiting the world. Each of us interacts with artefacts, instruments and other human beings in terms of some possible ways for us to be, such as being a doctor, being a teacher, being a parent or being a craftsperson.

Usually, we do not choose our identity, but behave in the way ‘one’ does in the community to which one belongs, in short one conforms to (or struggles with) the norm. However, experiences such as anxiety and the call of conscience can shock or provoke one into choosing who one is, in the face of one’s own mortality. One then exists ‘authentically’, at least for a time.

An authentic individual, in this account, lives in a way that is appropriate to a temporal being, a being who has always already been thrown into some situation, who project possibilities, and who dwells among other beings in a present world. Our temporality is historical, as each of us is a member of a community with a shared inheritance. Through communicating and struggling (agonism), a people or community may find a way to forge a future from its past (Fried and Polt, 2014: xii).

As Mitcham (2001: 28) explains,

“Heidegger undertakes an extended phenomenological analysis of human experience, concluding that Dasein is being-in-the-world characterized existentially as care, concern, solicitude – both about its own being and about the being of the world. That is, underlying all of Dasein’s modes of being and fundamental to it is the experience of care or worry, uncertainty.”

While this general orientation to Dasein may be accepted, in which matters of fact are understood simultaneously as matters of concern, to adopt a Latourian (2004) expression, difficulties arise in the interpretation of what Heidegger means by saying that Dasein is a question of ‘being-thrown’.

Thus, Mitcham (2001: 29), for example, argues that when Heidegger hyphenates the German word Da-sein, he does so in order to emphasise the specificity, as this-ness or there-ness, of the human as that which finds itself thrown into a particular body, dwelling in this country, now at this specific historical period, as well as the care or concern that arises in the specific human being about so finding itself.

Basing himself on the assumption that this is what Heidegger suggests that the term Da-sein implies, Mitcham contends that only from such ineluctable particularity may one be truly human, may one think authentically. It is this sense of grounded being or being-in-the-world, in an individual body, in a unique place, and with an exclusive history, that Mitcham emphasises by adopting the term.

Peter Sloterdijk attempts a similar specification of the notion of Dasein when he argues that ‘being thrown into the world’, is to be thrown into an envelope of some kind, To define humans is to define the envelopes, the life support systems, that make it possible for them to breathe, to live.

Such interpretations, however, assume that the condition of ‘being thrown’ implies a sense of ‘being thrown into the world’, rather than a more prolonged contingency, i.e. simply that of being in a condition of thrownness, without cessation, without origin, without arrival, without destination, without telos, or without ground, so to speak.

This may lead to a further interpretation of the sense of anxiety of which Heidegger speaks, in that the human subject may recognise both its groundedness, in a specific body, in a specific place with a specific history, and its groundlessness, as an unending passage of being-as-thrownness. Expressing the matter in this way opens it to a potential relationship with some postmodernist writings, i.e. post-high-modernist or post-1945 writings, for example, Samuel Beckett and other authors of the literature of the absurd, who undertook to subvert the foundations of accepted modes of thought and experience so as to reveal the meaninglessness of existence and the underlying “abyss,” or “void,” or “nothingness” on which any supposed security is conceived to be precariously suspended (Abrams, 1999: 168-169).

Although Heidegger would not use this terminology, the groundedness of Dasein lies in its inter-subjectivity and inter-corporeality. Thus, as Dalmayr (1989: 393) writes, the “worldliness” of Dasein entails inter-human linkage, an aspect discussed in Being and Time under the heading of “co-being”, of “being-with”, or Mitsein. Heidegger repeatedly insists in Being and Time that the ontological construal of being-in-the-world implies that the world is “always a world already shared with others: the world of Dasein is a co-world; being-in signifies a co-being with others.” (Dallmayr, 1989: 394)


Abrams, M.H. (1999). A Glossary of Literary Terms, 7th ed. Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle.

Dallmayr, F. (1989). The discourse of modernity: Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger (and Habermas). Praxis International, 8 (4), 377–406.

Fried, G. and Polt, R. (2014). Translators’ introduction to the second edition. In: Introduction to metaphysics, 2nd ed., by Martin Heidegger. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Latour, B. (2004). Why has critique run out of steam? From matters of fact to matters of concern. Critical Inquiry, 30 (2), 225–248.

Mitcham, C. (2001). Dasein versus design: the problematics of turning making into thinking. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 11 (1), 27–36. Available from [Accessed 20 August 2014].

edited 30 August, 2016 by Allan Parsons

Associated Terms in context


in Narratology

Genette (1980) defines narrative metalepsis as an intrusion by extradiegetic elements into the diegesis (and vice versa). He recognises that anyone or anything can slip from one diegetic level to another if the boundary between the levels is porous, and he doesn’t like it: ”The most troubling thing about metalepsis indeed lies in this unacceptable and insistent hypothesis, that the extradiegetic is perhaps always diegetic, and that the narrator and his narratees – you and I – perhaps belong to some narrative”. This, in a sense, is pretty much what we consider to be the case in narrative environments, where the diegesis typically is constituted of things that exist in the real world.

See Genette, G. Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method.  Trans. Jane E. Lewin.    Ithaca: Cornell UP (1980) page 236.

edited 4 February, 2019 by Admin