Storytelling WorkshopOctober 21 2021

Parables of AI in/from the Global South

October 21-22, 2021

Ranjit Singh
Rigoberto Lara Guzmán

What stories do we tell of a world that has increasingly come to rely on AI-based, data-driven interventions to resolve social problems? 


On October 21-22, 2021, Ranjit Singh and Rigoberto Lara Guzmán, hosted an international, online storytelling workshop on illustrative Parables of AI in/from the Global South. Fifteen storytellers were featured out of nearly 200 applications. Each storyteller was matched to a select Active Listening Cohort based on regional and thematic affinity. Cohorts met and shared feedback during a live, virtual session on Thursday (October 21), by email, and via a private Discord server. All storytellers performed their works-in-progress during a live, listening session on Friday (October 22) organized into three categories: 

(1) the self; (2) the collective; and (3) the other. 

This workshop was an exercise not only in storytelling as a craft and intellectual practice, but also in using the oral tradition to shape co-constitutive relationships between a collective and an individual using indigenous narrative methods, such as call and response, as a vehicle for knowledge transmission through speech.  

By focusing on the everyday nuances of living and interfacing with data-driven systems, we can shape AI narratives based not on universal truths but on ordinary ethics situated in distinct regional, linguistic, and vernacular contexts. This perspective will allow for rhizomatic scholarly thinking on — and public interest in — the emerging issues surrounding AI in and from the majority world. 

Stories also have pedagogical value. They elicit the nature of an academic discipline and often share three features: [1] They provide the empirical foundation for conceptual work; [2] They represent a situated perspective centered on particular forms of critique; and [3] They are inevitably entwined with the emotions they produce, thus generating a somatic, resonate tone in the listener. In this workshop, we engaged with stories that provide empirical foundations for the emerging theoretical work in understanding and researching living with data and AI in/from the Global South. The workshop was an effort to build a diverse collection of such stories, to translate everyday experiences into illustrative parables used by a community of practitioners to stand for (or refer to) conceptual and theoretical engagement with the unevenly distributed conditions and consequences of data-driven technologies.

The search for illustrative parables is not an individual project, nor does it end with organizing one workshop. It is a process to understand how the present material moment of living with data and AI is simultaneously a reflection of emerging futures and the many contested pasts. We are all implicated in this process now, one way or another. Describing everyday life in a data-driven world requires that we take storytelling as a craft and an intellectual practice seriously.

Our Partners

Featured stories were selected in collaboration with an Advisory Group of peer experts. 

Credits & Acknowledgements

This workshop is the result of ongoing collaboration between Ranjit Singh and Rigoberto Lara Guzmán. 

Designing this workshop would not have been possible without brainstorming sessions with Michael Lynch, Jonathan Corpus Ong, Dibyadyuti Roy, Jared McCormick, and Noopur Raval. We would also like to thank Sareeta Amrute, Jacob Metcalf, Emanuel Moss, Elizabeth Anne Watkins, Ania Calderon, and Janet Haven for their generous support and feedback on initial drafts of this call. Emnet Tafesse provided invaluable administrative support. Data & Society’s entire production and communications teams have played a role in putting this workshop together, especially Chris Redwood, Elijah Eley, Veronica Eghdami, CJ Brody Landow, Lyndon Spicer, and Sam Hinds. 

“Cultivating a rhizomatic praxis in motion – like ginger.”

Dr. Dibyadyuti Roy