Language and Spatial Practices


‘Speaking a foreign language’

(a) In a context in which the student body is international, does the language used in discussing methodological approaches from the Western canon relevant to the design of narrative environments, i.e. English, albeit with importations from other European languages, enact a world-view and, more specifically, a neocolonial geopolitics?

That is to say, is it an exclusionary practice? Does it create insiders and outsiders, self and other, us and them? In this sense, does ‘language’ command space, grant permissions to enter or prohibit entry into particular places? Is the (material) world articulated through ‘language’?

For a discussion of English as the language of academic discourse, the lingua franca or lingua imperial, see Christopher Balme (2015).


(b) Are the concepts expressed in terms that are unfamiliar, and in that sense seem ‘foreign’? Is academic language jargonised? If so, what are the reasons for this jargonisation, apart from being a power-play, a controlling of meaning-making and discussion by making the terms of debate inaccessible? Or, are the terms used necessarily precise, in as far as they seek not to be commonsensical but to be both an attempt to describe and to critique everyday practices at one and the same time?


(c) Is the use of unfamiliar terms itself a strategy ? Is it an example of the process of defamiliarization, or ostranenie, the artistic technique of presenting to audiences common things in an unfamiliar or strange way, in order to enhance perception of the familiar. The goal of this strategy is to overcome automatisation in everyday practices (a particular kind of ‘unthinking’ ‘performativity’), a strategy that can be found, for example, in the work of Shklovskjij, as discussed by Crawford (1984).


(d) Does ‘English’, in having a pragmatic or instrumentalist orientation (how so?), lack certain concepts that might be relevant for the design of narrative environments, or the design of spatial systems more generally, such as might be found in the traditions of vastu shastra, the sacred space system from the Vedic tradition in India, feng shui, the Chinese system of placement for homes and other buildings which is derived from vastu shastra, Wabi Sabi, the Japanese aesthetic philosophy that values elegance, beauty, serenity, simplicity, a meditative quality, and appreciation of, and connection with, nature and Wu Wei, the Taoist practice based on the ability to intuit placement that creates a good flow of energy and is in alignment with the Tao.

The problem in adopting any such system, or in borrowing any of its concepts, for the Western mindset may be the notion of ‘universal life energy’ or prana, ch’i or ki?. [Does methodological principle of ‘the performative’ stand in place of such ‘energic’ notions?]

While the Western mind might struggle with ‘universality’, especially in the post-Humanist, new materialist forms of Western thought, one notion that might be translatable from such ‘Eastern’ systems to Western ‘design’ is that of ‘impermanence’ or ‘conditionality’. Might aspects of this recognition of conditionality and impermanence be articulated through ‘the performative’?

Closing Questions

Is there such a thing as a ‘Western mindset’? If so, how does it relate to Western languages? How is ‘mindset’ embedded in ‘language’, particularly in relation to such relationships as ‘word and thing’ and ‘word and image’?

Does the Western mind, especially in that form that which may be characterised as ‘post-Humanist’ or ‘new materialist’ struggle with ‘the sacred’, ‘sacred spaces’ and ‘sacred places’, when considering the design of spaces/places?

Is the final slide in Methodological Travails a ‘diagram’ or the beginnings of a ‘mandala’; or indeed, a yantra (“instrument”), i.e. a geometric design acting as a tool for contemplation, concentration and meditation?


Balme, C. (2015). Language. Contemporary Theatre Review, 25 (1), 49–53. Available from [Accessed 11 May 2015].

Crawford, V. (1984). Viktor Shklovskij: differance in defamiliarization. Comparative Literature, 36 (3), 209–219. Available from [Accessed 11 May 2015].