Actant (Greimas)

As Timothy Lenoir (1994) explains, the structuralist semiotician A.J. Greimas set out to produce a generative grammar of narrative in which a finite number of functional themes in binary oppositions juxtaposed with possible roles, such as subject-object, sender-receiver, helper-opponent, would generate the structures we call stories.

Greimas’s actants, like Bruno Latour’s, are not solely human actors. Actants can also be non-human for Greimas as well as Latour. Actants are syntactically defined, and, for Greimas as for Latour, the performance of the actor presupposes competence. Subjects are defined not only as subjects but also by the position occupied in a narrative journey, a journey characterised by the acquisition of competences. Actors are constructed as the conjunction of actantial and thematic roles on this two-by-two grid (Lenoir, 1994).

An actant is a class of ‘characters’, in the broadest sense of this term, which have the same function in their different manifestations in a narrative. Actants appear as certain forces, powers or capabilities in a given text, situation or field. They are by no means equivalent to the concrete characters of a story or to the dramatis personae of a play. (Rulewicz, 1997)

The reasons for requiring the concept of actant are as follows, as explained by Rulewicz:

Firstly, an actant may be abstraction, such as God, Freedom or Equality; a collective character, such as the chorus in ancient tragedy, a group of characters fulfilling the same tasks, like soldiers in an army; or an actant may be represented by different characters that all act in a definite way. It should be added that an actant may be an animal, organism, inanimate object or, indeed, an environment, so long as one understands the term ‘environment’ actively, as an ongoing process of contextualisation and environing.

Secondly, one character may simultaneously or successively assume different actantial functions.

Thirdly, an actant may or may appear as a presence in the narrative, nor does it have to appear in the utterances of the characters. An actant may be the general abstract notion which is presented on the ideological level of the narrative.

Lenoir, T. (1994). Was that last turn a right turn? The semiotic turn and A.J. Greimas. Configurations, 2, pp.119–136. Available at:

Rulewicz, W. (1997). A Grammar of narrativity: Algirdas Julien Greimas. The Glasgow Review, (3). Available at: [Accessed September 21, 2014].

For a practical guide to using the actantial model in the design of narrative environments, see:

Hebert, L. and Eveaert-Desmedt, N. (2011). The Actantial model, In Tools for text and image analysis: an introduction to applied semiotics. Rimouski, Quebec: Universite du Quebec a Rimouski. Available at

Actantial model
Use for Semiotic Square, Greimas; See also Logic Square, Aristotle

Actor-Network Theory (actant-rhizome ontologies):

According to Jary and Jary (2000), actor network theory combines post-structuralist insights with detailed empirical studies of scientific practices and technologies, organisations and social processes. It builds on the work of Bruno Latour, John Law and Michel Callon. The focus of actor network theory is on the reality and transformability of networks, as against such notions as institutions and society. Its conception of the social is as a circulatory field of forces beyond the agency-structure debate.

The relevance of actor network theory to the design of narrative environments is twofold:

1. It deals with the articulation of material, textural, architectural, technological, environmental and subjective phenomena as a system or network acting to create coherence and subject to change or modification. Narrative environments can be conceived as having a similar range and to be similarly concerned with network effectiveness.

2. It deals with a number of themes that have to be addressed in the design of narrative environments, such as for example,

• an emphasis on semiotic relationality, i.e. a network of elements which shape and define one another;

• an emphasis on heterogeneity, in particular on the different types of actor and action, human and otherwise, that animates the network’s performativity;

• an emphasis on materiality, i.e. the heterogeneous material forms through which the network is realised;

• an insistence on processes and their precariousness, i.e. all elements need to continue to play their part or else it all falls apart;

• paying attention to power, as function of network configuration, as networked effect and effectiveness; and

• paying attention to space and scale, e.g. how networks maintain their boundaries, extend themselves and translate distant actors


Barry, A. (2011). Networks. Radical Philosophy, 165, 35–40.

Jary, D. and Jary, J. (2000). Collins dictionary of sociology, 3rd ed. Glasgow: HarperCollins.

see also Chronos, Topos, Kairos; see also real, imaginary, symbolic  

Felluga (2002-2011) states that in Julia Kristeva’s writings, chora stands for the earliest stage in a person’s psychosexual development, between birth and six months. In this pre-lingual stage of development, an infant is dominated by a chaotic mix of perceptions, feelings, and needs in which it does not distinguish its own self from that of its mother or even the world around itself (cf Merleau-Ponty‘s concept of the intercorporeal and Lacan‘s theorisations of infancy – infans – and childhood; development through Real, Imaginary and Symbolic phases).

Rather, the infant spends its time taking into itself everything that is experienced as pleasurable without any acknowledgment of boundaries. This is the stage, then, when a human being in infancy is closest to the pure materiality of existence, or what Lacan terms “the Real.” At this stage, the infant is, according to Kristeva, purely dominated by its drives, both life drives and the death drives, drives which can, in turn, be turned into narrative drivers, such as, for example, in the work of A. J. Greimas.

Bollnow (2011) notes that the word ‘space’ translates into Greek as ‘chora’, derived from choreo, which primarily means to give room, to make space and secondarily to give way, to shrink back. With reference to vessels, chora means to hold something, to have room to receive something. From this origin, ‘chora’ is space in the sense of gap, scope, distance.


Felluga, D. F. (2002-2011) Chora (Kristeva). Introductory guide to critical theory. Available at Accessed on 10 May 2014.

Isar, N. (2009). Chôra: tracing the presence. Review of European Studies, 1 (1), pp.39–55. Available at:

Rickert, T.J.J. (2007). Toward the chora: Kristeva, Derrida, and Ulmer on emplaced invention. Philosophy and Rhetoric, 40(3), pp.251–273. Available at:

Ramo, H. (1999). An Aristotelian Human Time-Space Manifold: From Chronochora to Kairotopos. Time & Society, 8 (2-3), pp.309–328. Available at:

see also Kairos, Chora, Topos


Détournement is the reuse of preexisting artistic elements in a new ensemble. It has been a constantly present tendency of the contemporary avant-garde, both before and since the formation of the Situationist International. The two fundamental laws of détournement are the loss of importance of each detourned autonomous element, which may go so far as to completely lose its original sense, and at the same time the organization of another meaningful ensemble that confers on each element its new scope and effect. (Internationale Situationniste, 1959)

Dialectical materialism
see also Historical materialism

James Lawler (2005: 67) informs us that, although the term dialectical materialism is suggested by certain statements of Karl Marx and is commonly used to describe Marx’s philosophy, it was not a term that Marx himself used.

Marx himself had talked about the “materialist conception of history”, later referred to as “historical materialism” by Engels. Engels further elaborated the “materialist dialectic”, not “dialectical materialism”, in his Dialectics of Nature in 1883. It was Georgi Plekhanov, the father of Russian Marxism, who subsequently introduced the term dialectical materialism to Marxist literature. Joseph Stalin further codified it as Diamat and imposed it as the doctrine of Marxism-Leninism, giving rise to Marxism as an orthodoxy (Laclau and Mouffe, 2001: 21-29).

Tom McCarthy (2014) points out that, “For Bataille, the positivist materialism of science or the dialectical materialism of Marxism are nothing more than Christianity in disguise, and a philosophy grounded in them remains an idealist one.”

see also Identity.

being; existence: something with objective reality; an abstraction or archetypal conception (Chambers English Dictionary, 1990); the existence as distinct from the qualities or relations of anything; that which makes a thing what it is; essence, essential nature (Shorter OED, 3rd ed., 1944)

Enkapsis (Dooyeweerd)

Dooyeweerd defines enkapsis in the following way, as highlighted by Basden (2003-2013):

enkapsis takes place, when one structure of individuality [i.e. an entity] restrictively binds a second structure … without destroying the peculiar character of the latter.” [NC, III:125]

Basden (2003-2013) notes that Dooyeweerd identified at least five different types of enkapsis:

Foundational Enkapsis – as that exhibited by a scuplture (work of art, marble it is made of);

Subject-Object Enkapsis – as between a snail and its shell;

Symbiotic Enkapsis – as between clover and nitrogen-fixing bacteria, and also between a cow and its meadow;

Correlative Enkapsis – as between an animal and its environment; and

Territorial Enkapsis – as between a state and its orchestras (direct version) or between a tax-payer and the schools (indirect version)

see also hodos

Espen Aarseth borrows the term ‘ergodic’ from physics and applies it to online texts, or cybertexts as he calls them. He reasons that during engagement with a cybertext, the ‘user’ will have made a sequence of semiotic choices. This work of selection, he suggests, is a work of physical construction that extends beyond the concept of ‘reading’. He calls this phenomenon ergodic.

In ergodic literature, Asrseth argues, effort is required to allow the reader to traverse the text. This effort is even greater if this concept is applied to narrative environments, where the participant is making effort to move through the space through a series of ‘decisions’, i.e. sequential, consequential and looped thoughts, actions and movements, based on semiosis and embodied intercorporeal engagement with the kairos-topos of the momentary space-place-time.

Aarseth, E.J. (1997). Cybertext: perspectives on ergodic literature, Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Everyday, the
Use for Everyday life; Quotidien, the;

Michael Sheringham (2006: 3) argues that from the mid-1950s onwards a cluster of closely-related ways of thinking about and exploring the everyday, or the quotidien,  developed which led to the notion of the everyday being positioned at the centre of French culture from the 1980s onwards, and into the 21st century. Since the 1980s, investigations and explorations of the everyday have become prominent in France certainly, but also elsewhere.

Prominent amongst those paying attention to the everyday in the French context are Henri Lefebvre, Roland Barthes, Michel de Certeau and Georges Perec, in dialogue with such thinkers as Edgar Morin, Jean-Luc Godard, Pierre Bourdieu, Michel Foucault and those included under the banner of Situationism. In turn, these writers draw common inspiration from ideas about the everyday at large in the writings of Karl Marx, Georges Bataille, Michel Leiris, Raymond Queneau and Walter Benjamin, as well as the Surrealists. (Sheringham, 2006: 4)

Historical materialism
See also Dialectical materialism

Jason Edwards (2010: 282-284) proposes that there are two ways of approaching an understanding of historical materialism.

The first is as a positivist science based on a humanist philosophical anthropology, human nature as the subject of history, and a teleological conception of history embodying a form of economic or technological determinism, as the successive development of modes of production.

The second is as the complex totality (as assemblage, a non-totalising totality?) of the material practices that are required to reproduce the relations of production over time.

Material practices, in this context, are taken to be regular forms of behaviour that are norm-governed and which involve a person’s relation to their body and to other bodies, as well as to experiential phenomena.

This complex totality is instantiated in the everyday lives of people and, in turn, the material practices of everyday life are implicated in the political and economic power of the state and the international political economic system.

Edwards suggests that historical materialism, as conceived by Marx and Engels, needs to shed its humanism, historicism, economism and teleological determinism. This means that a more de-centred and relational conception of the subject is required, perhaps through such notions as the intercorporeal and the intersubjective conceived in materialist terms, as is a less teleological and deterministic conception of historical change and societal organisation, as is available, for example, through notions articulated by complexity theory.

Historical materialism, in this case, would focus on the character of everyday life and lived space, as discussed by Lefebvre, for example, including its penetration by various media and technologies of communication, as discussed by Benjamin, Adorno and Horkheimer, and particularly now internet-based, potentially participative, multimedia technologies, as well as its relationships to the ordering of cities, regions, states and the international political economy.

Hodological space:

see also hodological space, ergodic, method, methodology

Hodos is a Greek word meaning ‘way’ or ‘path’. It lies at the root of both ‘method’ and ‘hodological space’, and therefore at the base of ‘wayfinding’ as an environmental concept and ‘finding one’s way’ both as a methodological concept as well as an existential concept, for example, as in Taoism.

 see also Entity.

the quality or condition of being the same; absolute or essential sameness; oneness (Shorter OED, 3rd ed., 1944). In post-structuralist thought, such as that of Jacques Derrida, the oneness or unicity of identity is challenged, and identity, as a ‘being-like’, is shown to be constituted through differance, as spacing and temporalising, as processes of differing and deferring at once. Identity in spatial practices and narrative environments incorporates this sense of identity as a series of identifications, i.e. as non-unitary or heterogeneous.

see also Intersubjective.

A term introduced by Merleau-Ponty to highlight the importance of the body both in cognition and in intersubjective relation.

see also Intercorporeal. 

Csordas (2008) argues that intersubjectivity is a concrete rather than an abstract relationship; and that it is primary rather than a secondary achievement of isolated egos.

see also Chronos, Chora, Topos

see also episteme, techne, phronesis, metis, nous, sophia; see also praxis, poiesis, theoria

Lettriste International See Situationist International

Logic Square, Aristotle
See also Actantial model

see also New materialism; Historical materialismDialectical materialism; Feminist materialism.


a way of proceeding or doing something, i.e. a procedure, especially one that is systematic or regular; orderliness of thought or action; as methods, it refers to the techniques or arrangement of work for a particular field or subject.


a system of methods and principles used in a particular discipline. More precisely, it may refer to the branch of philosophy concerned with the science of method. The approach to the design and understanding of spatial practices and narrative environments proposed here is diffractive, as a specific variety of performative methodology. See Performative paradigm.

Modern thought:

Modern (Western) thought, summarily, can be said to develop through the interweaving of humanist, individualist, rationalist and secular moralist strands and an emphasis upon progressive history and progress.

see also Postmodernism.

Modernity: (The modern age; cf Modern thought).

John Protevi (1999) states that “modernity” is a term whose temporal range depends on which academic discipline is being discussed. What can can safely be said is that it concerns post-1600 Europe at the earliest, that is, post-Renaissance, in the Northern Europe version. Whatever the causes, the years after 1750 saw various governmental and cultural changes accompany and accelerate, in “mutual presupposition,” these economic changes.

There are many different views on modernity. For Habermas, for example, the goal of modernity is the attainment of a fully democratic society. Modernity is to him, therefore, an ‘unfinished project’ which must be pursued if that potential is to be released (Terry, 1997)

New materialism:

The term ‘new materialism’ was coined by Manuel DeLanda and Rosi Braidotti in the second half of the 1990s. New materialism seeks to demonstrate that the mind, in being ‘bodily’, is always already material but that, nevertheless, the mind takes ‘bodiliness’ as its object, and that nature and culture are always already ‘nature cultures’, in Donna Haraway’s term.

New materialism critiques the dualism inherent in transcendental and humanist traditions which still linger in some cultural theory. The transcendental and humanist traditions continue to stir debates that are being opened up by new materialists who seek to shift these dualist structures by allowing for the fluxes of nature and culture, matter and mind, thereby opening up active theory formation. (Dolphijn and Tuin, 2012)

Adapted from Dolphijn, R. and Tuin, I. Van Der, (2012). New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies, Ann Arbor, MI: Open Humanities Press. Available at: Accessed on 29 July 2014

For a discussion of the many lines of flight of new materialism, see New Materialist Cartographies

Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO)
Related terms: Speculative realism; Object-oriented philosophy

The phrase Object-Oriented Ontology was coined by Levi Bryant in July 2009. Ian Bogost, Levi Bryant and Graham Harman, along with Steven Shaviro and Barbara Stafford, started the Object-Oriented Ontology movement in April 2010 at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. (Harman, 2010, 23 July)

In contemporary thought, Harman (2010, 23 July) explains, things are usually taken either as aggregations of ever smaller bits, as in scientific naturalism, or as constructions of human behaviour and society, as in social relativism. Object-Oriented Ontology steers a path between the two, drawing attention to things at all scales, from sub-atomic particles to Andean mountain ranges, examining their nature and relations with one another as much their relation to human practices.

Posthuman: (Posthumanist; Post-Humanism)


Lyotard uses the term “postmodernism” to define a “Post-modern Condition” in which techno-economic forces have driven the West beyond the conditions that birthed the “modern” thought forms of humanism, methodological individualism, rationalism, secular moralism, and progressivism (Protevi, 1999)


real, imaginary, symbolic: 

Research methodologies:

Two major research philosophies or methodologies have been identified in the Western tradition of science: positivist or scientific, which is quantitative in character; and interpretivist or anti-positivist, which is qualitative in character. Here we are adding a third, performative, which is active, generative and dialogic in character.

Positivist paradigm: Positivists believe that:

reality is stable and can be observed and described from an objective viewpoint, without interfering with the phenomena being studied;
phenomena should be isolated and that observations should be repeatable; and
predictions can be made on the basis of the previously observed and explained realities and their inter-relationships. (Davison, 1998)

Interpretivist paradigm: Interpretivists contend that only through the subjective interpretation of and intervention in reality can that reality be fully understood. The study of phenomena in their natural environment is key to the interpretivist philosophy, together with the acknowledgement that scientists cannot avoid affecting those phenomena they study. They admit that there may be many interpretations of reality, but maintain that these interpretations are in themselves a part of the scientific knowledge they are pursuing. (Davison, 1998).

Performative paradigm: Under the performative paradigm, perception takes place  in the midst of social cognition. The performative paradigm assumes an enactive intersubjectivity. Social cognition emerges from embodied social interaction or, in Merleau-Ponty’s term, from intercorporeality (cf). (Fuchs, 2009).

While the representational idiom of the sciences of modernity is an epistemological enterprise geared towards the production of theory, the performative paradigm of cybernetics is instead a practice, including theory and other kinds of account, which looks at the diversity of its components and actors and constructs a view of the world capable of accounting for such motley assemblages. (Fazi, 2011)

The performative paradigm incorporates an enactive approach. From an enactive point of view, organisms do not passively receive information from their environment which they then translate into internal representations. Rather, they actively participate in the generation of meaning. Thus, a cognitive being’s world is not a pregiven external realm represented by the brain; it is the result of a ‘dialogue’ between the sense-making activity of an agent and the responses from its environment (Fuchs, 2009)

Semiotic square, Greimas
See Actantial model

Situationist International

Bonnet (1992: 76) considers that the most determined challenge to the categories of art and everyday space, and their potential interrelationships, has come from the Situationist International, founded in 1957, and its principal forerunner, the Lettriste International, founded 1952.

The Lettriste International was formed as a splinter group of the Lettristes, a surrealist movement formed in Paris in the late 1940s. Its interest lay in developing forms of poetry, painting, and music based on the alphabetical letter.

The members of the Lettriste International were dissatisfied with the conservatism and aesthetism of the Lettristes. Guy Debord was the intellectual leader of both the Lettriste International and the Situationist International.


For a discussion of three traditional Chinese concepts, yu zhou, shi and wu-wei, see

Lushetich, N. (2014). No reason to jump, no reason not to jump: Song Dong and the process called ‘time’.Performance Research, 19 (3), pp.43–47. DOI:10.1080/13528165.2014.935183 [Accessed 25 October 2014].

see also Chora, Chronos, Kairos


Aarseth, E.J. (1997). Cybertext: perspectives on ergodic literature, Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Basden, A. (2003-2013). Enkapsis, in The Dooyeweerd Pages. Available from: [Accessed 11 October 2014].

Bollnow, O.F. (2011). Human space, London: Hyphen.

Bonnett, A. (1992). Art, ideology, and everyday space: subversive tendencies from Dada to postmodernism. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 10 (1), pp.69–86.

Csordas, T.J. (2008). Intersubjectivity and intercorporeality. Subjectivity, 22 (1), pp.110–121. Available at: [Accessed October 18, 2010].

Davison, R.M. (1998). Research methodology. In An Action Research Perspective of Group Support Systems: How to Improve Meetings in Hong Kong [PhD Thesis]. Hong Kong: City University of Hong Kong. Available at:

Edwards, J. (2010). The materialism of historical materialism. In D. Coole and S. Frost, eds., New materialisms: ontology, agency, and politics. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, pp. 281–297.

Felluga, D. F. (2002-2011) Chora (Kristeva). Introductory guide to critical theory. Available at Accessed on 10 May 2014.

Fazi, M.B. (2011). Cybernetics in action. Computational Culture, (November). Available at:

Fuchs, T. and Jaegher, H., (2009). Enactive intersubjectivity: participatory sense-making and mutual incorporation. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 8(4), pp.465–486. Available at:

Harman, Graham (2010, 23 July). brief SR/OOO tutorial. Object-Oriented Philosophy. Available at Accessed on 7 October 2014.

Hebert, L. and Eveaert-Desmedt, N. (2011). The Actantial model, In Tools for text and image analysis: an introduction to applied semiotics. Rimouski, Quebec: Universite du Quebec a Rimouski. Available at

Internationale Situationniste, (1959). Détournement as negation and prelude [Internationale Situationniste #3]. Situationist International Text Library. Available at: [Accessed August 26, 2014].

Lawler, J. M. (2005) Dialectical materialism [Addendum] in Borchert, D.M. ed. (2006). Encyclopedia of philosophy. Volume 3: Determinables – Fuzzy logic, 2nd ed., Detroit, MI: Macmillan Reference USA.

Lenoir, T. (1994). Was that last turn a right turn? The semiotic turn and A.J. Greimas. Configurations, 2, pp.119–136. Available at:

Lushetich, N. (2014). No reason to jump, no reason not to jump: Song Dong and the process called ‘time’.Performance Research. 19 (3), 43–47. DOI:10.1080/13528165.2014.935183 [Accessed25 October 2014].

McCarthy, T. (2014). Ulysses and its wake. London Review of Books, 36 (12), pp.39–41.

Protevi, J. (1999). Some remarks on Modernity and Post-modernism and/or Post-structuralism. Available at:

Ramo, H. (1999). An Aristotelian Human Time-Space Manifold: From Chronochora to Kairotopos. Time & Society, 8 (2-3), pp.309–328. Available at:

Sheringham, M. (2006). Everyday life: theories and practices from Surrealism to the present, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Terry, P. (1997). Habermas and education: knowledge, communication, discourse. Pedagogy, Culture and Society, 5 (3), pp.269–279. Available at:

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