Autonarrazione: Movement towards autonomy in community-driven narration
Autonarrazione is a joint project of the masters in Eco-Social design at the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano and the social cooperative OfficineVispa. Through research and two designed artefacts, the project aims to cultivate autonomous narration in a community, among ourselves, and fellow Eco-Social designers.
By exploring autonomy within narration,1 we developed an understanding of the non-autonomous nature of our stories and its implications.2 Our artefacts seek to facilitate critical reflection of these invisible frameworks that inform and shape transformative design.
Through a playful high-tech tin can telephone, a group process of practising generative conflict, and a regenerative design card deck,3 we critically examined how we conceptualise and tell the stories of ourselves, our communities, what matters to us, and how we believe the world works.
“…external narratives are a big issue felt by the inhabitants of Don Bosco—there is a distortion of narratives between the media and what they actually live. The risk is that people internalise this distortion and keep feeling like a minority or peripheral… an interesting goal is to make an important tool for a small community- a tool of expression and exchange, to stimulate the production of content by the inhabitants. So the community will be able to describe itself, by itself… Because this is something that we are suffering.”Gianluca Tenin, OfficineVispa
The terms “autonomous narration” and “auto-narration” joined the project’s vocabulary through the influence of Gianluca, the representative for our project partner. Our orientation towards its definition deepened through academic research.
Movement towards narrative autonomy is not a directive towards a fixed point.4 Instead, it is an orientation of continually situating oneself within a context and acknowledging the malleability of our self-determination. It is about situating the past and imagining the future within a framework of meaning-making.5
Our project emerged from breaking the cycle of extractive design by surfacing invisible influences on narration. What are the relational patterns we are immersed in? What is extractive design, and how are we perpetuating extractive relationships?
With a grounding in critical theory and an orientation towards exposing dominant cultural patterns, we set out to design artefacts that built upon our critical frameworks.
Dimmi: Unmoderated, Uncensored Hyper-Local Radio Station
Dimmi (Italian for "tell me") records and plays back sounds and stories offered by the public of Don Bosco. Part recording studio, part community radio station, and part sonic playground, the artefact takes the form of an oversized tin can telephone, superimposed on a public bench in the Don Bosco neighbourhood. Dimmi provides a playful way for community members to record and share narratives with each other.
Dimmi is powered by a custom Python program running on a Raspberry Pi single-board computer. A USB microphone and a small circuit board allow users to record their voice by pressing a physical button. A speaker mounted on the opposite side plays back the saved files in a continuous loop. The entire system is powered by an external battery pack, making the installation usable anywhere.
Dimmi serves as an outdoor, public, unmoderated, and uncensored place for exploring narrative autonomy. It aims to offer a richer understanding of the full context of the community beyond what may normally be visible or discussed.
Cards for Regenerative Design
A second artefact of the project integrates critical theory and practice exercises to build designers’ capacity for transformative work. Created as a tool for self-reflection and self-contextualisation, the deck supports designers in understanding their positionality within power systems, identities, and cultural hierarchies.
The overall design aims to foster tangential, playful engagement with critical theory in contrast to more rigid formats like books or presentations. Each card type contains a tip for tangential engagement. At the bottom of the card, users are referred to additional cards in the deck that contain connected ideas.
The deck aims to make complex concepts for critical reflection accessible so designers can choose to work in new ways rather than unknowingly perpetuating extractive cycles. Cards for Regenerative Design aims to create the conditions for a ripple effect of eco-social transformation.6
There is tension in the goal of creating tools to support autonomous narration. Autonomy refers to self-determination and the ability to make your own decisions without being controlled by anyone else.7 However, narration happens communally and is necessarily influenced by cultural and social contexts.8 Therefore, narration is never truly autonomous—it is always situated within and influenced by cultural and social contexts and conditioning.
We can, however, be aware of our contexts and conditioning. The project sought to surface conditioned narratives and ways of thinking, similar to how rhizome theory examines invisible structures underlying systems and discourses.