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Recognizing relationality through kombucha fermentation practices


Abstract and Figures

Design for sustainability aims to improve conditions within social, ecological, and technical domains by reconsidering how these domains relate to each other. However, the disciplinary conventions of design lack a practical framework for studying entangled relations between humans and nonhuman entities. For addressing this gap, the thesis explores the concept of relationality that emphasizes the interconnected wellbeing of human and nonhuman entities through kombucha fermentation practices. Due to touted health benefits of fermented kombucha tea, the practice of brewing kombucha has been shared among people and becoming more popular in recent decades. Within the thesis framework, the symbiotic relations among microbial and human bodies during kombucha fermentation served as a stage for recognizing the interconnectedness of human and non-human wellbeing. Interviews with kombucha brewers, a remote collective fermentation workshop, and a design probing activity provided insights into the relations between humans and microbes in the fermentation practices. The concept of relationality and the acquired insights about kombucha fermentation practices informed alternative ways of relating to nonhuman beings. Recognizing relationality opened a reflexive space for reconsidering everyday activities and understanding the 'interconnectedness between humans and others.' The sensory experience and embodied knowledge informed the emergence of relational ethics within human-microbe relations in kombucha fermentation practices. The learnings on human-nonhuman relationality aimed to enrich the discussions in design for sustainability by providing concepts and intuitive tools for exploring social-ecological entanglements.
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through Kombucha
Aybars Senyildiz
Master's esis
Aalto University
Recognizing Relationality through Kombucha
Fermentation Practices
Aybars Senyildiz
Master's esis
Aalto University
Master's Programme in Creative Sustainability (CS Design)
Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture (ARTS)
May 2021
Supervisor: Eeva Berglund
Advisor: Emilija Veselova
Copyright ©2021 Aybars Senyildiz
Design for sustainability aims to improve conditions within social, ecological, and technical
domains by reconsidering how these domains relate to each other. However, the disciplinary
conventions of design lack a practical framework for studying entangled relations between
humans and nonhuman entities. For addressing this gap, the thesis explores the concept of
relationality that emphasizes the interconnected wellbeing of human and nonhuman entities
through kombucha fermentation practices. Due to touted health benefits of fermented
kombucha tea, the practice of brewing kombucha has been shared among people and
becoming more popular in recent decades.Within the thesis framework, the symbiotic
relations among microbial and human bodies during kombucha fermentation served as a stage
for recognizing the interconnectedness of human and non-human wellbeing.Interviews with
kombucha brewers, a remote collective fermentation workshop,and a design probing activity
provided insights into the relations between humans and microbes in the fermentation
practices.e concept of relationality and the acquired insights about kombucha fermentation
practices informed alternative ways of relating to nonhuman beings. Recognizing relationality
opened a reflexive space for reconsidering everyday activities and understanding the
'interconnectedness between humans and others.' e sensory experience and embodied
knowledge informed the emergence of relational ethics within human-microbe relations in
kombucha fermentation practices.e learnings on human-nonhuman relationality aimed to
enrich the discussions in design for sustainability by providing concepts and intuitive tools for
exploring social-ecological entanglements.
Keywords: relationality, kombucha fermentation, embodied knowledge, sensorial experience,
nonhumans, design for sustainability
Proposing the topic of kombucha
fermentation for a design thesis would have
not been possible without the Creative
Sustainability master's program. e
kombucha fermentation practice is hardly a
subject of design research since it is not a
design activity or an artifact within
disciplinary conventions. However, within
the framework of my thesis, I approached it
as a stage for recognizing an alternative way
of relating to nonhumans.erefore, what is
designed in my research becomes the
exploration of an alternative relation design
for recognition.
rough the empirical research, my relations
with others had the agency to define the
content and approach of my thesis. An inch
of kombucha SCOBY,I provided from a
food workshop three years ago, still lives
with me and with the participants of the
empirical research. My experience of
kombucha fermentation practice enabled me
to reflect on the topic of human-nonhuman
relations. Moreover, my relations with my
thesis advisor, Emilija Veselova, encouraged
and guided me through the process with
detailed feedback. My relations with the
thesis supervisor, Eeva Berglund, opened up
a space for creativity but kept the research
relevant for design for sustainability.As my
partner,Rabia Gülbike Kaya, shared the
kombucha SCOBY with our friends and
relatives, she made it possible to learn from
Furthermore,the experiences from my past
and theories from my background enabled
exploring the research questions from
different lenses. My digital diaries, the
literature readings, and the mindmaps also
had agency.erefore, I felt the need to
thank for every relation that made this
thesis possible.
List of Figures 8
1. Introduction 10
1.1. Background 10
1.1.1. Personal Relevance 11
1.1.2. Reframing Design for Sustainability 11
1.2. Focus and Scope 13
1.3.esis Structure 13
2. Methodology 15
2.1. Research Questions and Objective 15
2.2. Research Design and Approach 16
2.3. Methods 16
2.3.1. Literature Review 16
2.3.2. Interviews and Personal Communication 17
2.3.3. Collective Kombucha Fermentation Activity 18
2.3.4. Integration of Findings 19
2.4. Research Ethics 20
2.5. Remote Research 20
3. Relationality 22
3.1. Defining Relationality 22
3.2.e Agency of Relations 24
3.3. Grounding the Knowledge 26
3.4. Relational Ethics 27
3.4.1. Relational Values 28
3.4.2.e Tension between Relationality and Normativity 28
3.5. Relationality in Everyday Life and Performativity 29
4. Kombucha Fermentation Practices 31
4.1. Microorganisms, humans, and the environment 31
4.2. Fermentation 33
4.3. Kombucha Fermentation 34
4.3.1. Kombucha Fermentation as a Practice 36
4.4. Interspecies Being 36
4.5. Microbes, Industry and Sustainability 38
5. Empirical Learnings 41
5.1. Interviews on Fermentation Practices 41
5.1.1. Participants and the Interview Process 41
5.1.2. Defining Interview emes and Questions 42
5.1.3. Learnings from the Interviews 42
5.2. Collective Kombucha Fermentation Activity 45
5.3.1. Designing the Activity 45
5.3.2. Kombucha Recipes as a Design Probe 45
5.3.3. Reflection workshop 46
5.3.4. Insights on the Activity 47
6. Findings 52
6.1. Opening up space for recognizing relationality with nonhumans 52
6.2. Attuning to the other in human-nonhuman relations 56
6.3. Relational ethics for sustaining human-nonhuman relations 57
6.4. Grounding knowledge and values within relations 59
7. Discussions 62
7.1. Reflections on the design and research 62
7.2. Designing relations for sustainability 63
7.3. Kombucha fermentation practice is against the industrial logic 64
7.4. Knowing and caring depends on capabilities 65
7.5. Reconstructing tools and concepts 65
7.6. Vitalizing aesthetics and concepts 66
8. Conclusion 68
8.1. Overviewing the recognition of relationality with nonhumans 68
8.2. Limitations 70
8.3. Suggestions for Future Research 70
Reference List 72
Appendices 78
Appendix A: Literature searches for Relationality 78
Appendix B: Literature searches for Kombucha Fermentation 79
Appendix C: Influencer authors of the concept of relationality 80
Appendix D: Keyword extraction map regarding microorganisms in sustainability
research 81
Appendix E: e themes and guiding questions emerging from the learnings from the
literature search on relationality 82
Appendix F: e themes and guiding questions emerging from the learnings from the
literature search on kombucha fermentation, microbiology. 83
Appendix G: Mindmap for preparing interview questions 84
Appendix H: Interview questions for kombucha brewers 85
Appendix I: Notes from recipes that participants prepared during collective kombucha
fermentation activity. 86
Appendix J: Workshop Board for Collective Kombucha Fermentation Activity 90
List of Figures
Figure 1. e process of creating interview questions
Figure 2. Fermented foods
Figure 3. Kombucha fermentation recipe illustrated by the researcher
Figure 4. e empirical research timeline including the participants
Figure 5. e network of SCOBY sharing among participants
Figure 6. A section of a mindmap for integrating learnings
Figure 7. e themes and guiding questions for preparing interview questions
Figure 8. Process design of collective kombucha fermentation activity
Figure 9. Recipe writing activity for collecting the memories of interaction
10 Introduction
1. Introduction
As a designer who has studied sustainability,
I have primarily relied on concepts to
develop my knowledge, emotions, and
opinions during my master's studies.
Typically,my learnings on sustainability
problems and solutions for transformative
change relied on abstract concepts that
distribute meanings within the social-
ecological realm. However, my experiences
with microbial bodies informed an
experience beyond the constructed concepts
that guided me throughout my studies. As
microbial relations involved an alternative
way of relating to nonhumans, I wanted to
explore kombucha fermentation practices in
the context of design for sustainability.
Departing from my experience of kombucha
fermentation, I explored the relation of
sustainment involving human and
nonhuman bodies.e symbiotic relations
among microbial and human bodies during
kombucha fermentation represented a stage
for recognizing interconnectedness. During
kombucha fermentation practices,
recognition emerges from the senses and
embodied ways of knowing and opens up
possibilities of attuning to microbial bodies
beyond human concepts. Since kombucha
fermentation involves a rationale that is
distinct from the values and systems that
reproduce the unsustainable ways of living,
the alternative ways of relating to others in
kombucha fermentation enabled me to
reflect on design for sustainability.
1.1. Background
Human cultures rely on concepts when
reproducing social relations and practices.
e concepts are constructed to act for the
convenience of communication, and they
gain meaning through relationships with
other concepts and within relationships
between individuals, societies, and contexts.
However, when concepts get solidified, they
create what Whitehead calls the "fallacy of
misplaced concreteness," which "fosters
dogmatism, limits creativity, and alienates
researchers from reality" (as cited in West et
al., 2020, p. 308). Within this background, I
approached the human-nonhuman divide as
a solidified concept. Since the solidified
separation of humans from nonhumans
justifies the domination of nonhuman
beings and the environment, it has been
causing unsustainability by justifying the
exploitation of nature (Speed, 2006). As a
result, the segregation of entangled
relationships has made these relationships
unsustainable. As Felix Guattari (2000)
states, not only is the environment
deteriorating, but so are our relations with it
(p. 27).
In order to address the unsustainable
relationships within the social-ecological
realm, it is a crucial challenge to
acknowledge the dynamic, blurry, and
entangled nature of conceptually divided
bodies. For this,in sustainability research,
the relations among social and ecological
domains are rendered as dynamic,
interconnected, and interdependent
(Mancilla García et al., 2020; West et al.,
2020). With this background, I focused on
the relationships within kombucha
fermentation practices. Kombucha
fermentation practices provided a rich study
area where human and microbial bodies are
entangled in a symbiotic way.erefore,
kombucha fermentation practices became a
stage for the normative aim of blurring the
boundaries of the human.
e inquiry of blurring the boundaries of
the human is supported by the theoretical
learnings from relational approaches that
posit relations as prior to entities within
systems (Walsh et al., 2020, p. 76). While
relational approaches provided the
theoretical background of the thesis,
kombucha fermentation practices enabled
unfolding the theories on the everyday level.
Given that these relations constitute the
social-ecological vitality,the theoretical
background of my thesis involved a specific
inquiry into conceptualizing alternative ways
of relating to nonhuman bodies. Although
the problem background of my thesis was
conceptual, I explored it through a vital and
tangible practice of kombucha fermentation.
During my research, I held the normative
aim of blurring the boundaries around
'human' and emphasizing the
interconnectedness well-being of human
and nonhuman entities.
1.1.1. Personal Relevance
It has been three years since I started
producing my drink in collaboration with
kombucha microbes.anks to an inch of
asymbiotic colony of bacteria and
yeast (SCOBY) that I supplied from a food
workshop during the Istanbul Design
Biennale 2018, my partner and I shared our
SCOBY with over five people.Most of
them shared their SCOBY children with
other persons. As the kombucha microbes
were replicating themselves, they
encouraged us to share their colonies.
Furthermore,I engaged with other
fermentation activities, such as fermenting
yogurt, beer, kefir, and sauerkraut. However,
kombucha fermentation has been the most
resilient, forgiving, and exciting practice for
me.e resilience of kombucha practice
could be due to kombucha showing the
lively activity of fermentation in the most
visible way by forming a layer that makes
the microbial activity detectable by the
human senses.
Kombucha fermentation is an example of
multispecies activity and interaction of
sustainment in which human and
nonhuman entities develop a rhythm for
sustaining the symbiotic relation. While
microbial relations required me to immerse
myself into another level of reality of
microcosmos, the object of study enabled
me to view design and sustainability from
outside. Exploring kombucha fermentation
practices beyond industrial logic and looking
outwardly at normality helped me reflect on
industrial logic's pervasiveness embedded in
contemporary culture and, therefore, in
design and sustainability.
1.1.2. Reframing Design for
As an industrial designer studying
sustainability, I had the privilege to reflect
on disciplinary conventions of knowledge
and sense-making.e first thing I noticed
was the lack of vitality in design and
sustainability. I found disciplinary
knowledge limited when exploring
multispecies entanglement on the everyday
level. For example,the design discipline did
not grant agency to nonhumans while
taking natural resources for granted. Neither
did sustainability provide concepts to
explore everyday practices (Kennedy et al.,
2015, p. 2).ese could relate to
technocentric and top-down approaches
that dismiss human-non-human
interconnectivity and place the development
of solutions solely in laboratories and
industrial networks instead of livelihoods
and daily life.
Moreover, the dependencies on distribution
networks became more apparent despite
studying a place-bound production.
Although kombucha fermentation is carried
out in domestic areas, it needs sugar, tea,
energy,and water from the industrial
infrastructures. Furthermore, exploring an
activity in which producers and consumers
are entangled has been challenging within
the dominant logic of industrial capitalism
in sustainability and design. at logic relies
on the externalization of costs and growing
12 Introduction
profits through value extraction from land
and people (Harvey,2006,as cited in Feola,
2020, p. 242). Furthermore, labor
exploitation and environmental destruction
support each other in the global economy,
which intensifies the pressure on ecologies
(White et al., 2016, p. 96). As Mariana
Pestana (2021) verifies,design has already
configured relations among people and land
on purpose or unwittingly (İstanbul Kültür
Sanat Vakfı, 2021). However, the limitations
of design and sustainability within industrial
logic pointed out that eliminating,
dismissing, or obscuring discrete relations
are inherent to the disciplinary conventions.
erefore, the identified limitations of
design, sustainability, and industrial logic
required attentiveness to relations that
constitute the mindsets that caused
unsustainable practices.
I believe that the limitations of design and
sustainability reside in the historical
development of these disciplines. Since
neither design nor sustainability approaches
exist in a vacuum, they have interacted with
the values and mindsets of the hegemonic
structures such as the culture of modernity
(Ehrenfeld, 2008; West et al., 2020;
Mancilla García et al., 2020), capitalistic
value extraction (Wilson & Bhamra, 2020;
Feola, 2020), and neoliberalism ( Julier,
2013; Forlano, 2017). Because "[b]lindness
to capitalism also risks a return to an
idealised image of the capitalist economy"
(Feola, 2020, p. 242), I had the motivation of
reflecting on the disciplinary conventions in
the context of industrial capitalism.
However, strong theories tend to grant
ultimate power to hegemonic structures and
cause powerlessness and limited politics in
research and action (Gibson-Graham,
2008).erefore, it should be noted that
design and sustainability might have agency
in "creativity to generate actual possibilities"
(Gibson-Graham, 2008).
To generate possibilities for sustainability,
design for sustainability has started focusing
on broader systemic problems rather than
limiting design within the material and
product level interventions (Ceschin &
Gaziulusoy, 2019). For design, this shift
meant the "dematerialization of
design"(Frascara, 2003). However, I believe
that "dematerialization of design"
necessitates a critical inquiry into "the value
systems within it operates" (Frascara, 2003)
and the conceptual language design utilizes
(Fry, 2010). For example, Ehrenfeld (2008)
proposes a focus on "flourishing livelihoods"
rather than solely operating on problem-
solution rationale. Moreover, sustainability
transition needs to be supported by
"everyday-life actions" (Manzini, 2019).
Overall, conceptual and critical interplays
are needed to reassess the limitations and
opportunities of design for sustainability.
Despite the tendencies of externalizing
social-ecological relations in industrial
supply chains, social-ecological
entanglements inform that human well-
being is dependent on the well-being of
other species and the ecological processes
(Rupprecht et al., 2020). erefore, focusing
on interdependent relationships among
humans and nonhumans becomes a key
study area in sustainability research. I believe
emphasizing that human well-being is
dependent on nonhumans necessitates
ethical and political inquiries into
sustainability and design. Manzini (2015)
accentuates the vital role of producing sense,
in which the ways of seeing and doing can
construct meanings for sustainability.
erefore, meanings and values at the
everyday level come into prominence for
recognizing alternative ways of relating to
nonhumans. Consequently, constructing
new tools and concepts for ethics and
politics that are grounded on everyday life
could be possible for design for
1.2. Focus and Scope
My inquiry into kombucha fermentation
practices strived to blur the boundaries
around humans and emphasize the
interconnectedness of human and
nonhuman entities.ese aims required
ethical, political, and ontological
considerations.us,the problem definition
of my thesis was conceptual, but I studied
the vital practice of kombucha fermentation
by getting inspiration from my personal
experience and empirical research. For
reflection on theoretical learnings, I
approached kombucha fermentation as a
stage to reflect on the complexities of social-
ecological entanglements without limiting
my learnings to direct interactions in the
physical realm. I combined my observations
and learnings from empirical research with
the theoretical background emerging from
the literature search and my previous studies
in sustainability.
Despite being a novel researcher in
sustainability, I did not choose to confine
myself to sustainability theories. Intending
to have a critical perspective, my inquiry
into the daily production of life involved
flights to different types of knowledge.
erefore, I explored connections between
various kinds of knowledge emerging from
microbiology, philosophy, humanities, social
sciences, critical theories of Marxism and
feminism, and knowledge positioned beyond
disciplines. As "[p]roper life flourishes in
relation to what is not itself" (Colebrook,
2019, p. 176), I expected to enrich the
discussions in design for sustainability with
inspirations from other areas of knowledge.
1.3. Thesis Structure
Section 2 introduces the methodology of the
thesis by presenting the research objectives,
the research approach, and research
methods. In Section 3, I exhibit my
learnings from the literature on relationality
and situate relational theories in
sustainability research. Section 4 explains
the kombucha fermentation practices by
providing learnings from recent research in
microbiology and multispecies relations in
fermentation practices. In Section 5, I
present the empirical learnings from
interviews and collective kombucha
fermentation activity. Section 6 includes the
findings from theoretical and practical
learnings on kombucha fermentation
practices and relational approaches. In
Section 7, I combine my learnings from the
research and relate them to disciplinary
discussions. Finally,Section 8 includes the
final remarks that might inform further
14 Methodology
In this section, I introduce the methodology for
exploring kombucha fermentation practices through
relational approaches. First, I will introduce the
research questions and objectives. Second, I will
outline the research design for integrating theoretical
research with empirical learnings. ird, I will list the
methods used for exploring kombucha fermentation
practices and relationality. Finally, I will explain the
limitations of the research followed by the structure of
the thesis.
2. Methodology
My background in critical theories and
design practice in the industrial setting
informed how design and sustainability
manifest the values of prevailing systems
that influence all domains of knowledge.
However, kombucha fermentation practices
inspired me with an alternative way of
relating to nonhumans beyond conceptual
boundaries between humans and others;
embodied, relational, and resilient.
erefore, departing from my personal
experiences of kombucha fermentation, I
wanted to explore how kombucha
fermentation practices can enable
recognizing relationality with
microorganisms. Furthermore, I was
interested in the relational approaches
because they provided theories for
emphasizing the interconnectedness in the
social-ecological realm by different
overarching domains of knowledge.
However, human concepts did not suffice to
recognize relationality with nonhumans.
erefore, I maintained an explorative
research approach beyond the established
conceptual frameworks of design and
sustainability. Since "methods don't just
describe but also help to create them"
(Halse & Boffi, 2014, p. 19), I held the
normative aim of enabling the recognition
of the feeling of interconnectedness with
nonhuman microorganisms.
My research themes implied a qualitative
research approach to develop an
understanding of topics, capturing and
constructing meanings (Muratovski, 2015),
connecting themes, providing insights, and
reflecting on learnings.e qualitative
research aims to build deep learnings about
the experiences of individuals (Muratovski,
2015). I explored the meaning-making
processes of people's experiences (Leavy,
2017, p. 9) and reinterpreted them to
reframe kombucha fermentation practice as
a multispecies activity. I intended to
construct a rich picture of the complex
connections (Muratovski, 2015, Ch. 4)
between relational approaches and everyday
life in the context of microbial relations.
erefore, the thesis holds an exploratory
approach that aims "to satisfy curiosity,
provide better understanding", and provide
learnings on a phenomenon (Hart, 1998, p.
2.1. Research Questions and
is thesis intended to make a difference by
"suggesting new ways of thinking" and
"paving the way for further research in the
field" (Muratovski, 2015).In terms of my
thesis topic, I aimed to explore an alternative
way of relating nonhumans.us, I
connected the main themes of 'relationality'
and 'kombucha fermentation practices' to
provide learnings to inform design for
sustainability. My inquiry held the
normative goal of blurring the boundaries of
humans and emphasizing the
interconnected wellbeing of human and
nonhuman entities.is inquiry implied
recognizing relationality with microbes in
the kombucha fermentation practices.e
research discusses the following questions:
1. How can kombucha fermentation
practices open up space for recognizing
relationality with nonhumans?
2. In which ways human-nonhuman
entanglement steers kombucha fermentation
3. What kind of ethics sustain human-
nonhuman relations within kombucha
fermentation practices?
4. In which ways can relational approaches
ground values within relations in the context
of design for sustainability?
16 Methodology
2.2. Research Design and
e thesis addresses experience-related
learnings about kombucha fermentation
practices and theoretical learnings about the
concept of relationality. For this,I collected
various insights to study the themes from
many angles for the qualitative research
(Muratovski, 2015, Ch. 4). e bricolage
approach enabled insightful opportunities
for sense-making (Kara 2015) and flights
among disciplines. For Markham, the
bricolage approach engages with everyday
practices of sense-making (Markham, 2013,
p. 65). Moreover, bricolage resonates with
relational approaches because "bricoleurs act
on the concept that theory is not an
explanation of nature - it is more an
explanation of our relation to nature"
(Kincheloe, 2005, as cited in Markham,
2017). With this background, I intended to
provide learnings from various types of
knowledge, including philosophy, social
sciences, humanities, microbiology, and non-
disciplinary knowledge. Non-disciplinary
knowledge stemmed from empirical
learnings and personal experiences with
kombucha fermentation.
e explorative approach involved being
attentive to the concepts and tools used in
research. As established concepts and tools
might carry the agency of their context and
limited objectives, I needed to distance my
methods from traditional design research
methods like the user-centered design or
participatory design. Cutting the relations
with prevailing methods and frameworks in
design required me to navigate the research
process with my intuition and creativity.e
intuitive approach and the content of the
thesis supported each other since empirical
research involved attuning to nonhumans
beyond human concepts, as well as my
research process involved attuning to
content beyond disciplined concepts.
erefore, being creative in research can also
enable new learnings (Hart, 1998, p. 22),
and creativity in research requires intuition,
imagination, and wonder (Kara, 2015).
erefore, I adapted design methods and
research methods according to emerging
necessities of research questions and
emerging themes. Design research informed
the messiness of design research methods,
but the mess should be empirically situated
and critically investigated in the research
(Halse & Boffi, 2014, pp. 26-27). For this, I
kept learning diaries and used mindmaps for
recording my learnings and recording the
critical decisions during my thesis process.
e records on learnings and decisions
enabled me to ground my decisions through
the process by reflecting on them.
2.3. Methods
e research topic required incorporating
theoretical and empirical research methods.
e first part of the literature review
explored the topic of relationality in the
context of sustainability.e second part
explored kombucha fermentation practices
in the context of everyday life, and personal
communication with a lecturer guided me to
interpret the social side of microorganism
research and fermentation practices.e
empirical research consisted of two
activities.e interviews explored how
kombucha brewers interacted with microbes
in kombucha fermentation practices.
Furthermore,I facilitated the collective
kombucha fermentation activity remotely.
e collective kombucha fermentation
activity aimed to reflect on human-
nonhuman interactions with the help of a
recipe writing activity and a collective
reflection workshop.
2.3.1. Literature Review
e literature review "summarizes, interprets
and evaluates existing literature" (Collins,
2017).e literature review included the
evaluation of documents in various formats.
I explored journal articles, books,recipe
books, and podcasts to access diverse
knowledge and reflections about research
topics.e connections between different
ideas enabled understanding the research
phenomena (Hart, 1998, p. 1). I have carried
out the literature search in two different
categories. First, a methodical search
(Phelps et al., 2007) on relationality
provided literature for establishing the
theoretical basis. Second, a literature search
on kombucha fermentation practices
involved a methodical search and various
sources to provide insights about the nature
of the fermentation practices and the recent
microbiology research.e methodical
search procedure for literature searches
included brainstorming key terms and
synonyms for creating search syntax,
selecting the databases to be searched,
methodical searching, taking notes on
insights about search results, and limiting
searches (Phelps et al., 2007).After listing
the acquired literature, I used several filters
and prioritization methods to focus on the
literature relevant to the research problem.
Literature search on relationality utilized the
terms: 'relationality,' 'interconnectedness,'
'ecological relationality,' 'imagining
relationality,' 'and 'sustainability.' e
keywords and their combinations created
the search syntaxes listed in Appendix A.
Moreover, literature searches enabled
creating bibliographic network visualizations
based on search results and the research
results' references. I used the bibliographic
visualizations to develop general insights
into the literature, influential authors, and
dominant disciplines.e insights from
bibliographic visualizations enabled
understanding the status of the literature,
influencing authors, foundational
publications on the topic, related disciplines,
and approaches.
Literature search on kombucha
fermentation utilized the terms 'kombucha',
'fermentation,' 'microorganisms,' 'sustainability,'
'ecology,' and 'review.' e keywords and their
combinations created the search syntaxes
listed in Appendix B.Since scientific sources
dominate academic search tools, the interest
in exploring the social and cultural
meanings around kombucha fermentation
required incorporating alternative search
strategies. I used online search engines for
generic purposes and personal knowledge to
enrich the literature on kombucha
fermentation practices. For example, I
reviewed a podcast series named "Ferment
Radio" and several books, including
fermentation recipes.
2.3.2. Interviews and Personal
To provide empirical learnings about
kombucha fermentation practices, I
conducted interviews and designed a
collective fermentation activity for the
research.e empirical research was
informed by learnings from the literature
searches.e literature on relationality
enabled me to determine the theoretical
themes to be explored, and the literature on
kombucha fermentation provided initial
insights into human-microbe relations. As
Figure 1 shows,I referred to the themes
from the literature search, my learning
diaries, and personal experiences to identify
interview themes and guiding questions.
Furthermore,my personal experience on
kombucha fermentation guided me
throughout the research process.
e interviews examined the kombucha
fermentation practices and the human-
microbe relationship during fermentation.
Semi-structured interviews were conducted
remotely with four participants. I asked
three participants to reflect on their journey
of fermentation and the interaction between
18 Metodoogy
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- A design probe activity of writing a recipe
with notes on observations, thoughts,and
- A collective reflection workshop as a
closing activity.
e kick-off meeting included a short
presentation about the scope and the
timeline of the activity. In the kick-off
meeting, I introduced the design probe
activity and guided participants to write
their fermentation recipes during the
kombucha fermentation process. After the
kick-off meeting, I created a group chat to
communicate the activity and enable
participants to talk about fermentation in
Participants shared information about
kombucha fermentation and their recipes in
an online group chat; thus, other participants
had the opportunity to check the recipes.
e group discussion also included
spontaneous ideations about trying new
recipes with kombucha, such as trying the
second fermentation for extra carbonation. I
also used the group chat to enable the
participants to adapt to talking about
kombucha together.
e primary medium for communicating
the kombucha fermentation practice
involved written personal recipes by
participants. e creation of recipes enabled
participants to think and feel the interaction
with microbes at a discursive level and refer
to self-observation during kombucha
fermentation. Furthermore, participants
could capture the moments of interaction
with notes to reflect on them collectively
e collective reflection workshop involved a
reflection session on the fermentation
practices based on the recipe notes
participants wrote during the Collective
Kombucha Fermentation Activity. e
collective reflection workshop was based on
the interpretation of embodied ways of
knowing and sensory experiences. For this,
recipe notes of participants were compiled
into an online board (see Appendix J) and
presented during the reflection workshop.In
this way, participants could recall their
memories of kombucha fermentation
through their own experienced stories.
e need for reflection on human-microbe
stemmed from a normative aim of
recognizing the interconnectedness and the
agency of microbes in fermentation
practices. I did not explicitly mention the
normative goal until the reflection workshop
but the goal guided the design of the
activity.is understanding stemmed from
an inquiry into the ways fermentation
actions were shaped by the needs and
wellbeing of the kombucha SCOBY.
rough the collective kombucha
fermentation activity, the main objective was
to recognize how participants attuned
themselves to the needs of microbes.
2.3.4. Integration of Findings
In Section 6, I aimed to provide fresh
insights about the meanings (Saldana et al.,
2011, p. 89), concepts, and experiences
related to human-nonhuman entanglements
within kombucha fermentation practices.
While I was collecting learnings from the
empirical research, I took memoing notes
(Saldana et al., 2011,p. 90) to reflect on
them through the research process.e
reflections during research phases also
involved analyzing accumulated learnings
(Muratovski, 2015, Ch. 4.6). When
empirical research and literature searches
ended, I categorized learnings from
empirical and theoretical research into
themes (Saldana et al., 2011, p. 108). I
analyzed these themes by finding
interrelationships (Saldana et al., 2011, p.
92) among them. Finally, I presented the
20 Methodology
compiled insights in four themes guided by
research questions.
2.4. Research Ethics
Ethical research aims to protect participants
from possible risks about the research
process, data collection, and storage
(Muratovski, 2015, ch. 3.9). I informed the
participants with online consent forms when
involving them in the empirical research
process. During interviews and group
meetings, I introduced how I would collect
data and use them in my research.
Participants who fermented kombucha
during the research had at least three
months of fermentation experience.
erefore, experienced participants were
able to detect problems in their fermented
kombucha beverages. One of the
participants had a spoiled SCOBY during
the research.e participant discarded the
spoiled SCOBY due to the risk of
contamination.e empirical research did
not involve any other perceived risks.
Another consideration about research ethics
was the role of the researcher.
Since the participants for the empirical
research were from my social sphere, the line
between researcher and participants was
blurry.Rather than using strict interview
language and procedures, I tried to have
everyday-level discussions with participants.
Moreover, I tried to blur the researcher-
participant divide with my language use and
interview style. On purpose, I avoided
having a strict interview procedure to allow
for lively discussions. Moreover, I have
adapted my terminology according to the
participant's terms by avoiding terms and
definitions acquired during the literature
search. For a profound interaction,I also
tried to include everyday conversations and
unobtrusively mention my experiences.
With this approach, I tried to distance
myself from a position that aims to extract
learnings from participants. Within the
empirical research, I tried to adopt an
approach to learn together with the
participants. ese involved not directing
prepared questions in an interview but
building on a conversation together.
2.5. Remote Research
Due to Covid-19 precautions during the
research timeline, I designed and conducted
my research in a remote mode of
communication. For my research, I asked
participants to have video calls by using
mobile phones or computers.e remote
research enabled me to include participants
from my home country Turkey.erefore, I
was able to conduct my empirical research
in my native language. Furthermore,I
believe that the remote mode of research
opened a space for participants. With low
exposure to one-to-one interaction, the
participants found more time to reflect on
the experience of fermenting kombucha.
Despite the remote interaction, I provided
learnings about embodied and sensory
aspects of participants' kombucha
fermentation practices thanks to my
previous experience of fermenting
kombucha. During the empirical research,
participants were living in their homes
where they also brew kombucha.
is section presents relational approaches for the
study of non-humans in the context of sustainable
research. First, I will describe the concept of
relationality by drawing on humanities and social
sciences. Second, I will describe how relational
approaches emphasize the agency of relations and
emphasize the interconnectedness for blurring the
conceptual categorizations within social-ecological
entanglements.ird, I will explore relational
approaches which ground the knowledge within
relations by acknowledging situatedness and diverse
ways of knowing. Fourth, I will explain relational
ethics and how relational values can contribute to
environmental studies.en, I will position the
concept of relationality within everyday life.
22 Relationality
3. Relationality
Sustainability aims to reconfigure the
complex relations within social-ecological
entanglements for normative ends.
Sustainability involved systemic approaches
based on interactions between social and
ecological entities (West et al., 2020, p.305).
However, those interactions "take place
among fixed entities" (Emirbayer, 1997, pp.
285-286) which rely on human concepts.
West et al. (2020, p.305) argue that
relational approaches challenge the
mechanistic approaches defining systems as
the sum of interacting entities. On the
contrary,relational approaches emphasize
the vitality of relationships when exploring
social-ecological entanglements. For this,
relational approaches acknowledge the
agency of relations and interdependencies
within the social-ecological entanglements
(Mancilla García et al., 2020, p. 4).
erefore, relations are more fundamental
than the essences of entities (Walsh et al.,
2020, p. 76). Recognizing the agency of
relations could make it possible to identify
the constitutive role of relations across
conceptually separated categories of 'human'
and 'nonhuman.' erefore, recognition of
nonhumans could open up space for more
fluid theorization and transformative change
for sustainability. For this,I delve into
relational approaches for studying
relationships between humans and
3.1. Dening Relationality
Relational perspectives study relationships
to understand "the whole not so much as a
system of objects but a network of
relationships" (Lejano, 2019, pp. 1-2).
Rather than relying on unchanging and
fixed beings, relational approaches confirm
that encounters and relations generate the
dynamic and fluid life (Colebrook, 2019, p.
175). Since relations constitute the fabric of
the socio-ecological realm (Colebrook, 2019,
p. 175), focusing on relations enables
grasping the entangled relationships of
social and ecological reality without staying
within abstract categorizations (West et al.,
2020, p. 308; Blaser & Escobar, 2016).
erefore, relational approaches involve the
possibility of conceptualizing the
intertwined nature of sustainability issues in
a more vital way by moving beyond
prevailing categorizations based on the
separation of the social from the ecological.
Relationality has been a significant theme in
many discourses that focus on
conceptualizing entanglements.ose
entanglements generally aim to reconfigure
conceptual dichotomies predefined by
concepts such as nature/culture, mind/
matter, human/nonhuman, and object/
subject (Walsh et al., 2020, p. 80). Many
disciplines have adopted relational
approaches for the study of entangled
relationships.e literature on relationality
has emerged within various disciplines such
as "neuroscience, cognitive science,
consciousness, psychology, archaeology,
philosophy, cosmology, cultural history,
social change, politics, organizational
behavior, theology, ecology, and feminist
spirituality" (Lange, 2018, p. 283). In the
context of human and nonhuman relations,
new materialism, ecofeminism, deep ecology,
political ecology, indigenous wisdom, and
posthumanism draw from relational
approaches to emphasize human
dependence on nonhumans and the
environment (Walsh et al., 2020, pp. 76-79;
West et al., 2020, p. 308; Hirvilammi &
Helne, 2014). West et al. (2020, p. 308) use
the term "relational turn" to refer to the
interest in relational approaches in
humanities and social sciences. "Relational
turn" involves ambitions to challenge the
legacy of the modernist paradigm.
Furthermore,these approaches counter
modernist dichotomies and "emphasize the
role of materiality in social and cultural life"
(West et al., 2020, p. 308).
Various thinkers from different traditions
and discourses have adopted relational
approaches within Western knowledge.For
example, philosophers like Heidegger,
Levinas, and Whitehead incorporated
relational approaches in their work (Fry &
Tlostanova, 2020). e network
visualizations created during the literature
search revealed that thinkers like Judith
Butler, Gilles Deleuze, Sara Ahmed, Donna
Haraway, John Law, Bruno Latour, Tim
Ingold, and Pierre Bourdieu have been
influential in academic discussion about
relationality (see Appendix C). Moreover,
during my research, I observed that
relational approaches draw from concepts
developed by feminist epistemology to
explore the relations between power, culture,
and materiality,such as "material-semiotic"
and "situated knowledge." Moreover, science
and technology studies, feminist new
materialism, and relational approaches have
the shared ambition to re-connect cultural
theories to the material realm. Due to
dissatisfaction with the linguistic turn in
social and cultural theories, new materialism
posited 'turn to matter' (Sanzo, 2018).
However, the 'turn to matter' did not
envision a solid material world but a world
of ever-changing entities and reciprocal
relations among matter, space, and time
(Barad, 2007, p. 198).e dynamism in
relational approaches might enable non-
essentializing solidified concepts in social
domains. For example, relational approaches
share the same insights as Butler's
arguments for developing a non-
essentializing approach to gender (Sanzo,
In many traditional worldviews, relations are
conceived of as an inherent feature of the
world (Pedersen, 2014, p. 202). For example,
relational approaches are common in North
American Indigenous philosophies,
Southern African Ubuntu, Andean
Pachamama, SumakKawsay, Indian
correlation principle so-hum, and Eastern
mysticism (Lange, 2018, p. 283; Fry &
Tlostanova, 2020). For example, 'Chinese
correlative thinking' informs a cosmos in
which everything flows and the elements are
considered a 'species of imagination' due to
the perspective of the correlator (Fry &
Tlostanova, 2020, Ch. 1). ese approaches
inform rethinking the conceptual divides
that solidify the categorizations of humans
and nonhumans in the context of
sustainability. However, Walsh et al. (2020,
p. 80) observe that relationality has been
marginalized within sustainability.I believe
that this could be related to the scientific
foundations of sustainability retreating from
traditional knowledge frameworks involving
relational approaches.
e literature search revealed five articles
that recently overviewed relationality as
their central topics to provide learnings for
sustainability (see Mancilla García et al.,
2020; West et al., 2020,Walsh et al., 2020;
Lejano, 2019; Helne & Hirvilammi, 2015).
As Walsh et al. (2020) envisioned a
transition "[t]owards a relational paradigm
in sustainability research, practice, and
education," West et al. (2020) explored the
implications of "[a] relational turn for
sustainability science." Moreover, Mancilla
García et al. (2020) explored concepts for
"[a]dopting process-relational perspectives
to tackle the challenges of social-ecological
systems research." e article by West et al.
(2020), with the title of "A relational turn
for sustainability science?" initiated an
interesting discussion in sustainability
research (see Raymond et al., 2021; West et
al., 2021). Moreover, many studies have
examined relational values for
environmental ethics (see West et al., 2018;
Himes & Muraca, 2018; Stålhammar &
orén, 2019). Since these articles that
discuss relational approaches in
sustainability are recent studies, I comment
24 Relationality
that relational approaches are just being
introduced to sustainability research.
3.2. The Agency of Relations
As relational approaches prioritize relations
over essences, they assert that relations
constitute entities (Mancilla García et al.,
2020, p. 4; Barad, 2007, p. 10). For example,
White et al. (2016,p. 34) interpret Haraway
by stating that human is "relationally
constituted by culture,history and many
other life forms." erefore human is "leaky
and porous" rather than having predefined
boundaries (White et al., 2016, p. 34).
Briefly, things and subjects become
themselves through relations (Emirbayer,
1997, p. 287).erefore, the state of
'becoming' counters the state of 'being' in
relational approaches. Entities in systems
have dynamic processes of becoming rather
than having "reified substances" (Emirbayer,
1997, p. 285).To describe the state of
becoming, West et al. (2020, p.310) refer to
Debaise and DeLanda by arguing that
entities can be "understood as 'events':
temporary nodes, stabilizations or patterns
of relations, produced within dynamic
intersecting processes." e state of
becoming in relational
approaches undermines the substantialist
explanations that rely on unchanging and
isolated essences of entities (West et al.,
2021, p. 110; Emirbayer, 1997).e
substantialist approaches "are closely
entangled with positivist epistemologies,
where concepts are understood as abstract
mental constructions separate from 'the
world itself' (Schaffer,2016,as cited in West
et al., 2021, p. 110)." Although the sciences
and human knowledge still grasp the static
essences and operate with "reified
substances" (Emirbayer, 1997, p. 285),
relationality reveals that relations and
negotiations are constantly reconfiguring
concepts (West et al., 2021, pp. 111-112).
For example,the feminist practice has
undermined the essentialist assumptions
about gender in society by pointing out the
social construction of the gendered bodies
through social relations (Butler, 2001, p. 23).
For emphasizing the agency of relations
with nonhumans, relational approaches
reject some of the prevailing assumptions in
modernist thought.ese assumptions
involve dichotomies underpinning
the conceptual borders between humans and
nonhumans and contributing to human
superiority over nature (Hirvilammi &
Helne, 2014, p. 2162). However, human
superiority leads to unsustainability by
instrumentalizing the nonhuman
environment as a material source for the
needs of humans (Lehtonen et al., 2018,p.
862). On the contrary,challenging human
superiority can enable human beings to
become 'earthbound' rather than
'earthmasters' (Colebrook, 2019, p. 179).
us, relational approaches criticize
dichotomous thinking based on the human-
nature divide in Western thought (White et
al., 2016, p. 33). Karen Barad points out that
the border of 'human' and 'nonhuman' is
"both political and ethical concern," and
these borders are not fixed (as cited in Hey,
2019b, p.154). In order to challenge the
borders that produce human-centric
worldviews, relationality focuses on the
mutual relations and interdependencies
between humans and nonhumans (Mancilla
García et al., 2020, p .2; Walsh et al., 2020,
Relational approaches reject substantialist
assumptions and dichotomies because these
assumptions dismiss the agency of
nonhumans and the materiality of the
world. Relationality highlights the liveliness
of matter by horizontalizing humans with
nonhumans and presenting their efficacy
(Bennett, 2010, p. 133). For example, food is
"an active inducer-producer of salient, public
effects, rather than a passive resource at the
disposal of consumers" (Bennett, 2010, p.
134).e biological and non-biological
matter becomes "co-constituting
assemblages" (Walsh et al.,2020,p.77).
erefore, nonhumans and the environment
are not passive subjects that need to be
regulated or protected by humans but lively
processes that have a central role in social-
ecological entanglements. In this way,
relational ontology provides a language to
involve "emergent forms of life" into politics
without confining to dichotomies (Blaser &
Escobar, 2016).
e dichotomous thinking also manifests
itself in systems theories guiding
sustainability (West et al., 2020, pp. 305-
307). Modern dichotomies separate social,
ecological, and economic systems (Lehtonen
et al., 2018, p. 862) and reduce the
interactions between these domains to
material exchanges (Lejano, 2019, pp. 6-7).
Mancilla García et al. (2020, p.5) point out
the interdependencies between social and
ecological are still missing in social-
ecological systems research. For example,the
dominant narrative of sustainability focuses
on carbon dioxide emissions rather than
questioning the social construction of
capitalist accumulation commodifying the
nonhuman environment (Feola, 2020, pp.
242-247).e interconnectedness of social
and ecological domains requires a mindset
"recognizing that the challenges of climate
change are entangled with many other
problems such as poverty and globalization"
(Mancilla García et al., 2020, p. 5). Similarly,
relational approaches aim for a hybrid
theory based on the interconnectedness of
social and ecological domains that can move
beyond dichotomies and human
exceptionalism by decentering humans
(Walsh et al., 2020, p. 76). For this, the
feeling of interconnectedness can bridge
humans with nonhumans (Escobar, 2011, p.
138). Since humans are dependent on the
environment (Hirvilammi & Helne, 2014),
we are "ecologically embodied and
embedded" creatures (Benton, as cited in
White et al., 2016, p. 32). Similarly,
traditional ecological knowledges that did
not separate nature and culture focused on
the interdependent aspects of social-
ecological entanglements (Walsh et al.,
2020, p.77). Moreover, the notion of
interconnectedness within social-ecological
entanglements has been elevated by
multispecies studies within sustainability.
For example, Rupprecht et al. (2020, p. 1)
notify that "living beings and their wellbeing
are interdependent." ey propose the
development of new frameworks that can
involve the wellbeing of all living beings and
According to Colebrook (2019),relationality
cannot be "imposed from above but emerges
organically" (p. 179). On the contrary,
systems perspectives within sustainability
research generally conceive change as
constituted by external drivers or normative
'interventions' (Mancilla García et al., 2020,
p. 4). However, moving beyond interactions
between static entities and categories
necessitates an understanding of change 'as
coming from within' (Santos, 2015 as cited
in Mancilla García et al., 2020, p. 4).
erefore, relationality ontology is emergent
and animated by agencies (e Kilpisjärvi
Collective, 2021, p. 6) rather than external
interventions. Similarly, Braidotti (2006)
defines relationality as emergent like
rhizomatic thinking, a metaphor developed
by Deleuze.e metaphor of rhizomes
stems from the insight that "it is crucial to
invent conceptual schemes that allow us to
think the unity and the interdependence of
the human, the bodily and its historical
'others' at the very point in time when these
others return to dislocate the foundations of
the humanistic worldview" (Braidotti, 2006,
p. 203).e concepts of emergence and
interdependence decenter humans in
systems by considering things as "mutually
constituted" (Sharma, 2015,as cited in
Escobar, 2018, p. 101).
26 Relationality
Since modernism and the existing symbolic
system reproduce human-centric conceptual
systems for communicating complexity,
reflection on concepts can open up space to
imagine alternative ways of being and seeing
the world (Mancilla García et al., 2020,p.
1). Since conceptual boundaries regulate the
disposal of life, it is necessary to reconsider
the boundaries of life, matter,nonhumans,
and human. Relationality can enable
reconsidering these boundaries, which limit
recognition of the entangled nature of the
socio-ecological realm (Walsh et al., 2020;
West et al., 2020). Relational approaches
remind the agency of relations and
nonhumans within social-ecological
entanglements by emphasizing
interconnectedness.To illustrate the agency
of relations, Colebrook (2019, p. 178) reveals
the central role of relations in life by
reminding us that the "end of the world"
scenarios actually involve the loss of
relations that create the social fabric.
3.3. Grounding the Knowledge
Current frameworks of knowledge render
knowledge as decontextualized (Lejano,
2019, p. 2). Dichotomous thinking,
specialization, studying parts, and reified
categories dissect the knowledge about
social-ecological entanglements (Lehtonen
et al., 2018, p. 862). For example, the
integration of social and ecological
knowledge is not sufficient yet in
sustainability research (Mancilla García et
al., 2020, p. 3). Likewise, Guattari (2000, p.
41) pointed out the need to connect the
knowledge on "the socius, the psyche and
'nature.'" For Fry and Tlostanova (2020),
current problems with epistemological
frameworks of creating abstract
and decontextualized knowledge are related
to the way of thinking that created
contemporary problems. Current neoliberal
knowledge production favors fragmented
and factual knowledge, which is less
relational (Fry & Tlostanova,2020).
erefore, current solutions can "technically
be solved," but "political, economic, cultural
delivery of the solution" is not precise (Fry
& Tlostanova, 2020).
e limitations of established
epistemological frameworks to study social-
ecological entanglements stem from the
concepts of reason, human superiority,
atomism, objectivism, and universalism
(Norgaard, 1994; Laininen, 2018, as cited in
Lehtonen et al., 2018, p. 861).ese
concepts can be traced back to ideas of
enlightenment supported by "the
development of science, technology, and
industry throughout the modern period"
(Walsh et al., 2020, p.77). Walsh et al.
(2020, p. 77) explain how modern western
epistemologies justify human superiority.
"ey [modern western epistemologies]
posit: (1) e idea that causation is
determined only by external relations
between objects; (2) that no object can
be understood outside its relation to
thought; (3) that primary and secondary
(sensible) qualities are separable and that
science can objectively study the former
without the latter; (4) that nature can be
mastered, 'her' secrets revealed to
instrumental reason and scientific
'progress'; and finally, (5) that mind and
body are separable substances, and that
the latter is the domain of objective
scientific inquiry (Walsh et al., 2020, p.
Since the limitations of current
epistemologies partially stem from the
reified conceptual divisions, relational
approaches aim to bridge the fragmented
and decontextualized knowledge emerging
from different domains (Fry & Tlostanova,
2020). However, connecting knowledge
domains require reconsidering the contexts
where knowledge is produced and utilized.
erefore, while connecting knowledge
across domains and categories of knowledge,
relational approaches aim to situate
knowledge within relations.
Feminist discourses,such as standpoint
theory and intersectional analysis, offered
the concept of situated knowledge to reveal
that "scientific knowledge is fundamentally
shaped by social relations and practices"
(Walsh et al., 2020, pp. 77-78). Similarly,
relational approaches emphasize
situatedness and path-dependence of
knowledge production (West et al.,2020, p.
312). Situated knowledge reveals that
knowledge is constructed relationally
(Haraway, 1988; Lehtonen et al., 2018, p.
863), undermining the objectivity claims
about knowledge production (Lehtonen et
al., 2018, p. 863). In other words, subject and
object are not separated in the creation of
knowledge because "we know because we
are of the world" (Barad, 2007, p. 185).
Furthermore,according to Emirbayer's
(1997, p. 300) interpretation of semiotics,
concepts are situated in relation to the other
concepts in the web.erefore, subjects
locate the meanings and knowledge within
relational networks.With this background,
feminist discourses and relational
approaches consider knowledge as
'contingent' and 'situated' within its context
(West et al., 2020, p. 318).
Situated knowledge necessitates recognizing
the diverse ways of knowing by moving
beyond disciplinary boundaries. Relational
approaches address relations across domains
for integrating knowledge from disciplinary
and non-disciplinary contexts (Mancilla
García et al., 2020, p. 5). A relational
approach to knowledge would encompass
experiences and practices beyond disciplines
(West et al., 2020, p. 307), affects beyond
knowledge (Hirvilammi & Helne, 2014,p.
2162), intuition beyond reason (Escobar,
2018, p. xv),and a nonhuman realm beyond
human realm (Rupprecht et al., 2020, p. 4).
Moreover, traditional knowledges provide
understandings of relationality (Walsh et al.,
2020, p. 80) and acknowledges the agency of
nonhuman beings (Rupprecht et al., 2020, p.
3). For Barad,including or excluding things
can produce different realities (as cited in
Hey, 2019b, p. 151). erefore, knowledge
frameworks have political power. For
example, ecofeminists argue that science and
technology contributed to the control of
nature and women (Walsh et al.,2020, p.
79).erefore, justice and power are relevant
to social-ecological entanglements (Mancilla
García et al., 2020, p. 3). Relational knowing
should be supplemented with ethical
considerations (Lehtonen et al., 2018,p.
864). Nevertheless, relational approaches do
not render ethics as separated from
embodiment and define ethics as relational.
3.4. Relational Ethics
As relational approaches inform decentering
human agency (de la Bellacasa, 2017,p.
143), "a new kinship system" is needed to
bridge conceptual domains of human and
nonhuman (Braidotti, 2006, p. 202).e
interdependence of humans and nonhumans
informs the necessity to care for nonhumans
(Rupprecht et al., 2020). However, for
relationality, "care is not simply an
emotional sentiment in the individual
human mind, but an embodied, collective
and reciprocal practice involving humans
and nonhumans" (West et al., 2020, p.314).
erefore, ethics of care becomes an
emergent practice derived from the
embodiment, situatedness, and political
stance (West et al., 2020, p. 315). For
example, 'ethics of care' in permaculture is
based on the recognition of being embedded
in relationships that "have consequences for
more than ourselves and our kin" (de la
Bellacasa, 2017, p. 146).e "kinship" with
nonhumans could emerge from having ties
with nonhumans beyond the nature-culture
28 Relationality
divide (Haraway, 1992, as cited in Braidotti,
2006, p. 199-200).is kind of ethics does
not rely on abstract moral norms, but they
are ethical doings emerging from corporeal
relations with the nonhuman realm (de la
Bellacasa, 2017, p. 145).erefore, relational
ethics is grounded on relations, attachment,
and embeddedness rather than abstract
categorizations and norms. In this way,
relational ethics can embed the ethical
experience into everyday practices of
nonhuman relations and build resilient
ethical relations with nonhumans beyond
human concepts.
3.4.1. Relational Values
Relational ethics introduces relational values
for the context of environmental ethics. As
environmental ethics relate to "the
normative underpinnings that guide how
humans should behave towards nature"
(Stålhammar & orén, 2019, p. 1203),
environmental ethics involved discussions
exploring whether the value of nonhumans
resides in intrinsic or instrumentalist values
(West et al., 2020, p. 316). As intrinsic value
relied on valuing nature "for its own sake,"
and instrumental value focused on the needs
of human societies when referring to value
propositions (Stålhammar & orén,2019;
Himes & Muraca, 2018).While intrinsic
values remained weak due to lacking a
valuing subject (Stålhammar & orén,
2019, p. 1206), instrumental values did not
address the exploitative commodification
approach treating nature as a resource
(Himes & Muraca, 2018, p. 5). Relational
values as a third category can be defined as a
supplementary category (Himes&Muraca,
2018, p. 5), a connecting category
(Stålhammar & orén, 2019, p. 1201), or a
context-related alternative to existing value
categories (Chan et al., 2018, p. 6).
Being emergent, grounded, and context-
dependent, relational values can provide
opportunities "for transformative change
toward sustainability" (Chan et al., 2018, p.
1). According to Chan et al. (2018),
relational values are context-related and can
be a boundary object concept for the
meaningful integration of social sciences
and diverse knowledge into sustainability
science.erefore, by connecting social and
ecological issues, relational values support
intersectional analysis and "contextualize
human-nature interactions in light of
asymmetrical power relations and dynamics
between assemblages or networks of
interest" (Walsh et al.,2020,p.80).
Moreover, relational values necessitate
reconsidering dominating value frameworks
that rely on instrumentalizing market
mindset and "settler's narrative" (Himes &
Muraca, 2018,p. 5) that are based on
strategies of commensurability, scalability,
and interchangeability (Tsing, 2015, pp. 38-
40). According to Tsing (2015, pp. 38-40),
these strategies enable the displacement of
humans and nonhumans by transforming
the social-ecological realm into a plantation
for economic activity. As the relational
inquiry on knowledge production revealed
the need to ground knowledge claims within
relations, relational ethics also implies
reconfiguring the concepts of ethics in a
more grounded way.
3.4.2. The Tension between
Relationality and Normativity
I believe that the need for grounding ethics
in relation contradicts the normative goals
of sustainability.e normative premise of
relational approaches in sustainability
involves valuing the wellbeing of
nonhumans as well as the interdependence
between species (Rupprecht et al., 2020, p.
5). However, relational values contradict the
provision of values through top-down
narratives and managerial approaches.
Likewise, Barad (2003, pp. 805-812) and
Braithwaite (2002) are concerned about
representationalist tendencies that create
abstractions for top-down management of
ethics. While these abstractions are based on
human concepts, universal values appear to
be "out of touch," and traditional ethics is
based on abstractions (Culbertson, 2013, p.
451). However, traditional ethics prioritize
rules over relations and "dominate human
passions by privileging consciousness"
(Deleuze, 1988, as cited in Mandalaki &
Fotaki, 2020, p. 750). Although this tension
uncovers the limitations of contemporary
ethical frameworks, de la Bellacasa (2017, p.
127) argues that ethics embedded in
relations can provide creative and inspiring
outcomes for human-nonhuman relations.
3.5. Relationality in Everyday Life
and Performativity
Relational approaches intersect with enacted
approaches when addressing the neglect of
everyday life in modern scientific
knowledge. Ignoring everyday life stems
from the substantialist paradigm separating
the mind from the material world (West et
al., 2020, p. 311).e literature on
relationality draws on cognition research to
emphasize enacted approaches that inform
brain-body and environment interactions
(Walsh et al., 2020, p. 78). ese approaches
are related to affect, emotion, and body
politics (Walsh et al., 2020, p. 78). For Barad
(2007), "[s]pace, time, and matter are
mutually constituted through the dynamics
of iterative intra-activity" (p. 198).erefore
mind extends to "dynamic inter-actions
between coupled brain-body-environment
systems" (Varela et al., 1991; Clark, 2008, as
cited in Walsh et al., 2020, p. 78).
Furthermore,the agency is shared with the
languages and concepts to "navigate the
world" (Cook & Wagenaar, 2012, as cited in
West et al., 2020, p. 314), and "language
does not simply reflect the world but
actively intervenes in and shapes it" (Butler,
1988, as cited in West et al., 2020, p. 314).
With this background, relational approaches
envision reconfiguration of concepts for
embracing the complexities (West et al.,
2020, p. 318).
Although relational approaches reveal the
agency of relations and the pivotal role of
embodiment, humans "have been separated
from the social production of reality,the
common ecological, social, material and
nonmaterial reality" (Lehtonen et al.., 2018,
p. 862).Within the context of sustainability,
disconnection from the production of reality
could mean a lack of 'capabilities'
transforming the livelihoods for humans. In
environmental justice, Nussbaum (as cited in
Schlosberg, 2020) defines capability as the
"control over one's environment," and it
informs decision-making processes." Since
the environmental problems are related to
the conditions and values of hegemonic
narratives of the modern-industrial-
capitalist ways of making and living (Feola,
2020), how capabilities are distributed
through 'material-semiotic' arrangements
comes into prominence for design for
sustainability. With this background,
studying alternative ways to relate to
nonhumans can point out solidified
arrangements that configure the relations
that contribute to unsustainable ways of
making and living.
30 KombucaFermentatonPractces
31Kombucha Fermentation Practices
4. Kombucha
Fermentation Practices
All animals are incomplete without the
microorganisms that enable metabolic
activities for survival (Douglas, 2018, Ch. 1).
Recent research on the human microbiome
reveals that human health is dependent on
microbial diversity in the body and the
surrounding environment (Prescott et al.,
2018). As discussed in Section 3, the
conceptual divide between humans and
nonhumans justifies human superiority and
contributes to unsustainability. Microbiome
research supports this theoretical argument
with findings that indicate how human
wellbeing is dependent on microbes.
erefore, the central role of
microorganisms in sustaining life requires
rethinking human-microbe relations and
recognizing the interconnectedness among
different life forms.e practice of
kombucha fermentation serves as a stage to
reflect on how human-nonhuman relations
are framed through prevailing dichotomies.
Although the term 'fermentation' is
generally used for referring to human-
controlled microbial activities (Kårlund et
al., 2020; Doelle, 1975), the microbial
activity of decomposing organic compounds
is not specific to human practices.e
anaerobic metabolism of microbes is an
omnipresent activity, but the scientific
literature on fermentation focuses on
producing knowledge for human practices
on the industrial scale. Recognizing the
interconnected nature of life and its
processes requires challenging the
assumptions that separated human beings
from natural processes (see Section 3.2).
4.1. Microorganisms, humans, and
the environment
e term 'microorganism' refers to single-
cell organisms that can form colonies and
complex structures (Madigan et al., 2017, p.
38).e category of 'microorganisms' is an
overarching category including bacteria,
fungi, archaea, and viruses (Douglas, 2018,
ch. 2).ey have a biomass greater than that
of all plants and animals combined (Dale,
2012, Ch. 1). Microorganisms are at the core
of metabolic activities of larger organisms
such as animals and plants and the
ecological processes in general (Douglas,
2018, Ch. 1). Animals sustain their lives
thanks to the microbes "involved in the
nutrition, health, reproduction, and behavior
of their hosts" (Mony et al., 2020, p.2).e
cluster of microbes on a host is called the
'microbiome' (Madigan et al., 2017, p. 37),
and the interaction between the host and its
microbiome maintains the balance that
ensures the host's health (Douglas, 2018,
Ch. 3). Recent research on the human
microbiome revealed that microbes also
influence their host's behavior and mental
wellbeing (Cullen et al., 2020, p. 5).To sum
up, the physical and mental wellbeing of
animals depends on the diet and microbes in
the body (Douglas 2018, Ch. 3).
Although microbiome research reveals the
pivotal role of microbes on human health,
the hygiene hypothesis is concerned with
the far-reaching consequences of hygienic
lifestyles that impoverish the human
microbiome.e modern concept of hygiene
includes the assumption that increasing
cleanliness improves human health.
However, recent research in microbiology
has revealed that human health is connected
to the microbial diversity of the surrounding
environment (Cullen et al., 2020, p. 3), and
reduced microbial diversity may cause major
allergies and metabolic disorders such as hay
fever, asthma, eczema, obesity and diabetes
(Grumezescu & Holban, 2018; Douglas,
2018, Ch. 3.5.2). David Strachan was the
first researcher who linked the rise in atopic
diseases in children with small family size
and cleanliness (Strachan, 1989, as cited in
32 Kombucha Fermentation Practices
Douglas, 2018, Ch. 3.5.2). ese findings
revealed that less environmental exposure to
microbes, altered diet, and antibiotic use had
reduced the human microbiome diversity
(Bloomfield et al., 2016). Generally, the
reasons behind reduced microbial diversity
are related to significant shifts in the
lifestyle due to industrialization and
urbanization (Rupprecht et al., 2020, p. 9).
erefore, the human microbiome
necessitates rethinking human health and
recognizing the interconnectedness of
human wellbeing with microbes and the
surrounding environment.
Furthermore, the interconnectedness
between human wellbeing and the
microbiome manifests itself in immune
regulation.e notion of the immune
system "as a protector of 'self against all
comers' " is misleading (Douglas, 2018, Ch.
4.1). On the contrary,immune regulation is
driven by microbe-host interactions
(Bloomfield et al., 2016), and the role of
microorganisms is fundamental for the
immune system and health (Douglas, 2018,
Ch. 4.1).is link between human health
and the microbiome diversity indicates that
the immune system is integrated with the
microbiome rather than isolated (Douglas,
2018, Ch. 4.1). e central role of microbial
diversity for human health indicates the
shortcomings of the prevailing assumptions
of the modern hygiene concept, which is
based on eliminating microbes.
Nevertheless, it should be noted that
reconsidering hygiene does not frame 'all
microorganisms as healthy,' but it challenges
the reductionist approach of eliminating all
microbial life (Bloomfield et al., 2016).
Jamie Lorimer calls this reductive approach
the "antibiotic approach to life" (e
Kilpisjärvi Collective, 2021, p. 2).
e "antibiotic approach to life" also involves
controlling the boundaries between humans
and microbes by antibiotics (e Kilpisjärvi
Collective, 2021, p. 2). Antibiotics have been
used to treat infectious diseases, and they
have become a major element of the health
infrastructure. However, controlling human-
microbe relations with antibiotics "has had
dramatic outcomes for human and animal
health, having led to the rise of
antimicrobial resistance" (Kirchhelle, 2020,
as cited in e Kilpisjärvi Collective, 2021,
p. 2). Antibiotic resistance renders
antibiotics ineffective and can make curable
diseases risky again because some bacteria
have been developing the capacity to evade
antibiotics' effects (Landecker, 2016, p. 20).
e overuse of antibiotics causes antibiotic
resistance, but the root causes of the
problem expand beyond the clinical setting.
For example,antibiotic use has been a
common practice in animal farming
practices, including fish farms (Landecker,
2016, p. 20). Animals feed supplemented
with antibiotics enable farms to increase
their efficiency and profitability (Landecker,
2016). Since efficiency and abundance are
crucial for industrial production,
"[a]ntibiotic resistance is defined as a
collective ecological condition of late
industrialism" (Fortun, 2012; Orzech &
Nichter, 2008, as cited in Landecker, 2016,
p. 19). Moreover, antibiotic resistance is a
global challenge that can not be contained
within borders; therefore, it indicates that
risks and impacts are interrelated in the
microbial world (Prescott et al., 2018, p.8).
e general condition of the disturbed
microbiome is called 'dysbiosis" which is the
result of antibiotic use other conditions
impoverishing the microbiome (Prescott et
al., 2018, p. 3). Dysbiosis is associated with
numerous metabolic and immunological
diseases (Douglas, 2018, Ch. 8.4.1e).
"Western lifestyles, including diet, antibiotic
use, and excessive cleanliness," are related to
the condition of reduced microbial diversity
(Douglas, 2018, Ch. 3.6). Specifically,
industrial dietary patterns include processed
food, food additives, refined fats, high sugar,
and residues of antibiotics and pesticides
33Kombucha Fermentation Practices
that cause dysbiosis (Prescott et al., 2018, p.
5; Cullen et al., 2020, p. 7). Although
industrial food systems and western
lifestyles involve factors that cause dysbiosis,
recent research on the human microbiome
has begun to indicate how to mitigate the
effects of the unhealthy lifestyle. For
example, the consumption of probiotics and
prebiotics can ameliorate or cure dysbiosis-
related diseases (Douglas, 2018, Ch. 3.4.3).
As probiotics increase microbial diversity in
the gut, prebiotics provides nutrients for the
microbes (Grumezescu & Holban, 2018).
Fermented foods and beverages are an
example of probiotics, and they improve
immune functions (Prescott et al.,2018,p.
5). Beyond immunity and metabolic
benefits, recent research on gut-brain
connection started to explore the positive
effects of a healthy microbiome on human
psychology (Cullen et al., 2020, p. 5).
Beyond their effects on human wellbeing,
microorganisms play a crucial role in
transforming materials that support
ecological cycles (Mony et al., 2020,p. 2).
'Microbial ecology' deals with
microorganisms' effects on the global
ecosystem, plants,and animals (Madigan et
al., 2017, p. 42).e biomass of
microorganisms is superior to that of other
organisms, and all ecosystems are strongly
influenced by microbial activities (Madigan
et al., 2017, p. 42). For example, the oxygen
in the atmosphere was made possible thanks
to microbial activities (Madigan et al., 2017,
p. 38). Moreover, microorganisms are the
principal actors in maintaining
biogeochemical cycles affecting soil fertility
(nitrogen fixation), organic matter
decomposition, and carbon storage (Mony
et al., 2020, p. 2).erefore, microorganisms
are vital to animal life and life on the planet
(Mony et al., 2020). However, particularly in
urban areas, human impact results in "non-
linear feedback loops that are far from
understood" (Cullen et al., 2020, p. 3).
Although recent research revealed more
details about the central role of microbes in
social-ecological entanglements, it is
challenging to have a coherent
understanding of microbial life (Mony et al.,
2020, p. 1).e lack of a holistic
understanding might be caused by the fact
that human knowledge on microbial
relations primarily depends on technologies
used in laboratory settings (Madigan et al.,
2017, p. 37). Nevertheless, human health
depends on environmental health, and the
impact of human activities on the
environmental microbiome needs
consideration.ere is a growing
recognition of the interconnectedness among
humans, animals, plants, microorganisms,
soil, and "the surrounding biosphere,
atmosphere, geosphere, and hydrosphere"
(Rupprecht et al., 2009, p. 9).
4.2. Fermentation
Fermentation has been an ancient practice
of preserving and preparing food and
beverages (Kårlund et al., 2020; Dimidi et
al., 2019, p. 1). Fermented food and
beverages include kombucha, yogurt, kefir,
olives, beer, wine, vinegar, miso, pickles, and
sauerkraut (Katz, 2003). Traditional
fermentation practices have been
disappearing from everyday life due to
dependence on mass production in
industrial food systems (Katz, 2012).
However, there is a growing interest in
fermentation and fermented foods in recent
decades due to touted health benefits of
probiotics (Dimidi et al., 2019, pp. 1-2).
Moreover, fermentation practices enhance
taste and make food more digestible
(Fournier, 2020, p. 95; Katz, 2012). With
this background, fermentation practices are
"materially-driven practices motivated by
personal health and medicine, social and
cultural tradition, reducing waste, and
avoiding mass-production" (Kuznetsov et
al., 2016, p. 1786). Within the thesis
34 KombucaFermentatonPractces
Note:Adaptedrom Madganeta.,2017,p.46
and mcrobabodesareentanged.Ints
roug metabocactvtesdurng
ackoxygen. erearetwo mantypeso
2). eproducedcemcasvaryaccordng
totedomnant mcrobaspeces(or
maderomsweetenedtea"(Redzep &
(Kapp &Summer,2019,p.66)." eword
2018,p.659).Inwestern markets,
tentersectonbetween makercuturesand
startercuture. estartercutureo
2019,p.2). Moreover,tsa"superuous
commodty"(Doejšová &Kera,2016,p.70)
used(Gaggìaeta.,2018,p.2). eamount
35Kombucha Fermentation Practices
personal preferences (Redzepi & Zilber,
2018). In order to illustrate the ratio, 200
grams of sugar can be mixed with 800 grams
of water (Redzepi & Zilber,2018).When
the tea cools down to room temperature, it
is time to add the starter culture, the
SCOBY,into the fermentation container
(May et al., 2019, p. 4). Ideally, the brewer
adds a small amount of fermented
kombucha tea from the previous batch (May
et al., 2019, p. 4).is step is called
backslopping, and it creates an acidic
environment suitable for kombucha bacteria
(Redzepi & Zilber,2018).e container
holding the kombucha tea should let air
transfer because SCOBY needs access to
oxygen (Redzepi & Zilber,2018).e
kombucha fermentation process can take 10
to 14 days (May et al., 2019, p. 4).e
brewer can adjust the taste of kombucha by
adjusting the duration of fermentation, the
amount of sugar,and the taste of the tea
(Redzepi & Zilber,2018).During the
fermentation process, the liquid's flavor
shifts from a sweet and flat liquid to a sour
and fizzy one (Redzepi & Zilber, 2018). For
increasing carbonation, the kombucha can
be bottled through a secondary fermentation
process (Redzepi & Zilber,2018).e
residual microbes would continue producing
more carbon dioxide for carbonation
(Redzepi & Zilber,2018).After the
fermentation, the SCOBY can be infused in
a small amount of kombucha tea for storing
in a cold place for the subsequent
fermentation (Redzepi & Zilber 2018).
e biochemical process of kombucha
fermentation involves the symbiotic activity
of acetic acid bacteria and the yeast
(Redzepi & Zilber,2018).When SCOBY
and sugary liquid meet, the yeast consumes
sugars and produces ethanol (Redzepi &
Zilber,2018).e bacteria feed on ethanol
and form acidic acid (Redzepi & Zilber,
2018). As the bacteria benefit from the
produce of the yeast, bacteria also form
floating a biofilm on the surface of the tea;
yeast produces the enzymes for the public
good of the microbial community (May et
al., 2019, p. 4).e acetic acid bacteria
lowers pH by producing acetic acid (May et
al., 2019, pp. 4-5).e biofilm on the surface
of the tea and the low level of pH makes the
liquid more inhabitable for the symbiotic
community (May et al., 2019, p. 5; Dimidi
et al., 2019, p. 8).e composition of
kombucha SCOBY and tea varies according
to the starting culture, the amount of sugar
and tea, oxygen level, fermentation time,
temperature, and fermentation duration
(Dimidi et al., 2019, p. 8).
e touted benefits of kombucha rely on the
general benefits of probiotics and
kombucha's proven effects on animals (Kapp
& Sumner, 2019, p. 68). Although
kombucha's health benefits have not been
proven on humans, its reputation relies on
the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant
Figure 3.Kombucha fermentation recipe illustrated by the
36 Kombucha Fermentation Practices
properties of kombucha (Kapp & Sumner,
2019, p. 68).e effect of kombucha on
animal subjects informs health
improvements in metabolism and digestive
systems (Dimidi et al., 2019, p. 8).
Furthermore,the categories of fermented
food and beverage increase the resilience of
the gut microbiome by competing with
pathogenic bacteria and producing immune-
regulatory substances (Dimidi et al., 2019,
pp. 1-2).
4.3.1. Kombucha Fermentation as a
Although fermentation is an ancient
practice, it disappeared from households due
to dependence on industrial food systems
(Katz, 2012, Introduction). With the
practice of fermentation, the knowledge of
fermentation is also disappearing since
generation-to-generation links are broken
due to lifestyle changes (Katz, 2012,
Introduction). However, kombucha
fermentation has been getting more
common globally thanks to its touted health
benefits, the trends involving the revival of
fermentation practices (Katz 2012).
Moreover, kombucha has a growing market
share (Kapp & Sumner, 2019, p. 66).
However, the thesis framework excludes
industrial-scale production of kombucha
since my interest in kombucha fermentation
explores its properties that "counter mass
consumption" beyond mainstream industrial
food systems (Kuznetsov et al., 2016,p.
Kombucha fermentation is an easy and open
activity that does not require special tools.
Having a starter culture, sugar, jar,and tea
brewing tools suffices to brew kombucha.
Generally, people who are not familiar with
kombucha SCOBY feel disgusted by it
(Kuznetsov et al., 2016, p. 1792). However,
over time, brewers become attached to their
kombucha SCOBYs (Redzepi & Zilber,
2018). People who ferment kombucha
generally find store-bought kombucha
drinks boring (Redzepi & Zilber, 2018).
Furthermore,adapting kombucha beverages
for the distribution and storage
infrastructures of industrial chains might
require pasteurization, which eliminates the
probiotic properties of kombucha
(Spackman, 2018). As the industrial
provision of kombucha drinks confines
buyers to premade recipes,the kombucha
brewers can try new tastes by modifying the
recipe and tailoring the beverage to their
preferences (Redzepi & Zilber,2018).
Moreover, by lowering the need for
packaging and transportation, kombucha
fermentation practice enables the brewer to
enjoy a delicate drink with probiotics in a
sustainable way (Dolejšová & Kera, 2016, p.
70).e most prominent feature of
kombucha fermentation is its SCOBY,
which grows during the fermentation
process.e SCOBY mat is the health
indicator and visual cue for the brewers
(Redzepi & Zilber,2018).e conspicuous
growth of the SCOBY contributes to the
metaphor of 'fermentation as a mode of
communication' (Hey, 2019b, p. 150) among
humans and microbes, making kombucha
fermentation a multispecies activity that is
carried out by human subjects and the
microbial community.
4.4. Interspecies Being
Within the thesis, I explored kombucha
fermentation as a stage to reflect on human-
nonhuman relations. However, the existing
literature on microbiology involved
fragmented knowledge that did not relate to
alternative ways of relating to nonhumans.
erefore, I felt the need to involve an
expert interview that can guide my
ambitions of connecting human-nonhuman
relations to ethics and sustainability. For
this, I reached out to Salla Sariola, a lecturer
37Kombucha Fermentation Practices
at the University of Helsinki, studying and
teaching microbes in the context of
sociology, ethics, feminist technoscience,
antibiotic resistance, and global healthcare.
e personal communication with Salla
Sariola provided insights that guided me to
explore the "microbes as social actors"
(personal communication, March 2, 2021).
Although microorganisms are related to the
vital processes that influence society,
established modes of approaching microbes
in scientific knowledge lack the recognition
of symbiotic perspectives to microbes (S.
Sariola, personal communication, March 2,
2021). For example,microbes are discovered
within contexts related to contagious
diseases and food contamination, and
therefore, eradicating microorganisms has
been the primary goal in public health (S.
Sariola, personal communication, March 2,
2021). However, recognizing the symbiotic
and holobiont perspective to microbes
challenges established modes of thinking,
"therefore, bringing a different way of asking
questions about ecologies, bodies,
relationships, and relationalities." (S. Sariola,
personal communication, March 2, 2021).
Nevertheless, the possible implications of
challenging established ways of thinking
about microbes are far-reaching and waiting
to be explored (S.Sariola, personal
communication, March 2, 2021). e abiotic
approach to microbes is systemic, and
antibiotics are like an invisible
'infrastructure' (Willis & Chandler, 2019).
As the interview with Salla Sariola revealed,
"microbes as social actors" require new fields
of knowledge that can emphasize the agency
of microbes in society and ecology.e need
for challenging established ways of thinking
also manifests itself around the boundaries
of humans.e microbial world includes
entangled relations in which the boundaries
of individual humans are not clear.For
example, the human microbiome acts as an
active agent of the immune system
(Bloomfield et al., 2016; Douglas, 2018, Ch.
4.1), and antibiotic resistance connects all
human bodies by exposing society to an
interconnected and contingent risk
(Landecker, 2016, p. 22). erefore,
microbiology reveals that the human body is
biocultural (Fournier, 2020, pp. 97-98). In
this way, microbial relations epitomize the
necessity to develop a framework for
multispecies sustainability (Rupprecht et al.,
2020, p. 9) and a new type of social science
(e Kilpisjärvi Collective, 2021, p. 1).
Although entangled microbial relations
indicate a need for a paradigm shift in
epistemologies, fermentation can be a stage
for experiencing multispecies entanglements
because fermentation connects different
bodies (Hey, 2019b, p. 150).
A notion of wellbeing based on the
interconnectedness of human beings and
nonhuman beings requires dismantling the
human/nonhuman divide (e Kilpisjärvi
Collective, 2021, p. 3). According to Barad,
defining the borders of humans is political
and ethical (as cited in Hey, 2019b, p.154).
Since politics in microbial relations can be
considered a model of environmental
relations (Fournier, 2020, pp. 97-98), an
alternative definition of human-microbial
relations has an ecological dimension (e
Kilpisjärvi Collective, 2021, p. 3).e
political and ethical meanings point out
refusing essentialism (e Kilpisjärvi
Collective, 2021, p. 3), leaving individualism,
anthropocentrism, the idea of purity
(Fournier, 2020, p. 108). On the microbial
level, fermentation practices can enable
exploring an ethical way of being together in
a multispecies relationship (Fournier,2020,
pp. 108-109). According to Fournier (2020,
p. 102), the ethics of fermentation
"foregrounds care -of the self and others."
Kombucha fermentation practices rely
on senses for knowing microbes (e
Kilpisjärvi Collective, 2021, p. 8). For
example, brewers check the thickness of the
mat and the smell of the tea to troubleshoot
38 Kombucha Fermentation Practices
the fermentation process (Kuznetsov et al.,
2016, p. 1794). Moreover, brewers might
adjust fermentation duration by tasting the
tea.e senses and learnings on multispecies
interaction inform embodied knowledge
which imprints sensory information with
memories (Hey, 2019b, p. 153). With the
smell indicating the situation of the
fermentation process, brewers continuously
assess the state of a ferment (Hey, 2019b, p.
153). Kombucha fermentation practices
involve hands-on experimentation as a way
of learning about and attuning to the needs
of microbial communities (Kuznetsov et al.,
2016, p. 1792).erefore, fermentation is a
"mentally manual activity" where senses and
body act as a pathway to the human subject
(Heldke, 1992, as cited in Hey, 2019b, p.
152). Salla Sariola also informed embodied
way of knowing with an anecdote on
fermentation. Sariola (personal
communication, March 2, 2021) mentioned
one of her latest researches about sourdough
fermentation practices in which she talked
to people who bake bread.e baker was
adjusting fermentation according to
temperature and environmental conditions
guided by embodied knowledge. Although
the baker did not have the information
about the chemistry of fermentation, her
skills and embodied knowledge about
fermentation practices were enough to carry
out fermentation by adapting to conditions
(S. Sariola, personal communication, March
2, 2021). I interpreted this anecdote as a
story to highlight the relevance of diverse
imaginations for recognizing microbial
relations. According to the Kilpisjärvi
Collective, fermentation activities are
situated, embodied, and multisensory
practices (Law & Mol, 2008,as cited in e
Kilpisjärvi Collective, 2021, p. 7) which
engage with 'arts of noticing' (Tsing, 2017,
as cited in e Kilpisjärvi Collective, 2021,
p. 7).
Being embedded in the fermentation
practices and being proximate to
nonhumans make humans accountable
towards other life forms (Hey, 2019b,p.
154). On the contrary,within industrial food
chains, humans have severed connections
with the production of food and the affected
nonhumans (Katz, 2012). While Fesmire
(2010, p. 184) calls this condition "aesthetic
disconnection" from industrial food chains,
Schlosberg (2020) calls it "alienating" since
consumers do not meet with the land or
producers. Within the context of my thesis,
I situate kombucha fermentation practices
as an alternative to alienating ways of
relating nonhumans. As this stance is
informed by the learnings from relational
approaches (see Section 3), I focus on the
interdependent wellbeing of humans and
nonhumans (Rupprecht et al., 2020), the
reciprocal constitution in relations,and
being accountable for nonhumans. While
this intended questioning established ways
of thinking for sustainability, it also required
an inquiry towards the manner of
sustainability towards microbes.
4.5. Microbes, Industry and
My literature search also explored how
design and sustainability approach
microorganisms. Using a bibliographical
analysis tool, I extracted the most used
keywords from the titles of the search results
addressing microorganisms within
sustainability research (see Appendix D).
e results included keywords like
"technology", "production", "microalgae",
"biomass", "biofuel", "pollutant", "soil
fertility", "diversity", "plant growth",
"application", "system", "effect", "bacterium",
"wastewater treatment".e keywords
implied that the approach of sustainability
to microbes predominantly represents
an extractive and instrumental manner, as of
the values of industrial production and
capitalism.is manner can be explained by
39Kombucha Fermentation Practices
dominant scientific-oriented discourses
within sustainability research guided by
market forces (Feola, 2019). However, this
also reveals that the sustainability research
has not yet decoupled from extractivist
tendencies of industrial mindset and market
logic. As knowledge is constructed through
power relations (Foucault, 1980,as cited in
e Kilpisjärvi Collective, 2021), the
scientific knowledge frameworks are also
influenced by the value systems that they are
embedded in.
In the industrial context, microorganisms
are grown on massive scales to produce
antibiotics, enzymes, and certain chemicals
(Madigan et al., 2017, p. 45). For example,
biotechnology employs genetically
engineered microorganisms to synthesize
high-value products such as insulin
(Madigan et al., 2017, p. 45). However,
beyond the production of microbes and
compounds, eradication of microbes is a
goal for some sectors, like food supply
chains and animal farming (Landecker,
2016, p. 20).Within the vast infrastructures,
the microbial bodies are controlled for
production or eliminated by sterilization.
e dualistic approaches reproducing
human superiority renders microbes
controllable (Hey, 2019b, p. 153). Although
it is difficult to estimate the far-reaching
ethical implications of microbial relations,
including and excluding things produce
different realities and posit ethical questions
(Barad, as cited in Hey, 2019b, p. 151). For
example, hygiene hypothesis and antibiotic
resistance had been 'alternative realities' that
once involved risks for human health and
were made possible by the mismanagement
of microbial bodies. Microbiopolitics inform
that power and biological life are
intertwined, and microbial relations should
not be situated within capitalist relations of
power (e Kilpisjärvi Collective, 2021,p.
40 Empirical Learnings
Empirical Learnings
In this section, I will explain the empirical learnings
that emerged from interviews and a collective
kombucha fermentation activity. is section outlines
the empirical research and learnings in three sections.
First, I will provide the learnings from the interviews
on kombucha fermentation practices that I have
conducted with kombucha brewers from my social
sphere. Second, I will reveal the insights that emerged
from an expert interview about the social aspects of
fermentation and microbiology.ird, I will
summarize the collective kombucha fermentation
activity by exploring human and nonhuman relations
during kombucha fermentation practices.
mcroorgansms. entervews,conducted
between December2020andFebruary
mysocaspere(P1,P2,andP3). e
P4)andteresearcer(R). Moreover,my
supported myntutontrougemprca
vdeocastatastedabout45 mnutes.
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ermentatonpractces. enetworko
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42 Empirical Learnings
sharing kombucha connected us thanks to
an inch of SCOBY that I obtained from a
food workshop during the 2018 Istanbul
Design Biennial. Since kombucha SCOBY
grows and replicates itself, one can share it
with interested people. Figure 5 portrays the
sharing network of kombucha SCOBY
among participants.
Kombucha sharing activities among
participants took place in the context of
daily relationships, regardless of the
provision of empirical teachings for the
thesis. Participants fermented kombucha for
a varying period of three months to three
years.e dots in Figure 5 represent the
spoilage of kombucha SCOBY. Despite
spoilage, brewers generally maintain
fermenting kombucha thanks to their
relations with other people who grow
5.1.2. Dening Interview Themes and
e interviews aimed to explore human-
microbe relations within kombucha
fermentation practices. Since these relations
are experienced on a material level, the
interviews focused on experiential, practical,
and sensory aspects of interactions. Figure 6
shows a section of the mindmap used for
the integration process to identify
overarching themes and guiding questions.
e themes and guiding questions emerged
from the learnings from the literature search
on relationality (see Appendix E) and the
learnings from the literature search on
kombucha fermentation practice (see
Appendix F). I prepare the guiding
questions not for asking these questions to
participants but for guiding the interview
questions. Finally, I prepared the original
interview questions but reviewed the
interview questions after each interview to
make minor changes based on emerging
themes and ineffective questions (see
Appendix H).
Figure 7 outlines the themes and guiding
questions that steered the interview
questions.e guiding questions and themes
emerged from grouping learnings from
literature research into categorizations.
ese categorizations implied relevant
learning domains such as; personal journeys
of brewers, practice level learnings, and
ethical meanings. Although the themes
varied from a practical level to an
ontological level, the interview did not
thoroughly explore all the themes. It was
challenging to address abstract themes with
interview questions because the focus arose
from everyday-ness and microbial relations'
tangibility. In brief, it was not possible to
discuss political, ethical, and ontological
meanings with participants during the
interviews. As a result, the interview
questions mainly provided insights about
practical and sensory levels (see Appendix
H). With the interview questions, I explored
the participants' journey of fermentation,
practical aspects of kombucha fermentation,
and sensory elements of the interaction such
as seeing, smelling, and touching. Moreover,
some of the questions addressed feelings and
thoughts related to fermentation practices,
sharing SCOBYs, and traditional
fermentation practices.
5.1.3. Learnings from the Interviews
After each interview, I transcribed the
interviews and noted the learnings by
listening to the audio recordings.e
responses provided insight into the practical
aspects and sensory experiences of
fermentation practices.e insights were
about the participants' personal kombucha
journeys, the generic steps of kombucha
fermentation, sensory experiences, care,
ethical and social meanings of fermentation
43Empirical Learnings
All of the participants started kombucha
fermentation due to health concerns. Two
participants suffered from immune-related
disorders, and one of the participants had
discomfort about her digestion system.
Participants expected that kombucha would
improve their immune system and
metabolism in general. After hearing the
touted health benefits, they were interested
in drinking kombucha regularly.
P1: Having immunity disorder, she started
fermenting kombucha for improving her
health more than one year ago.However, she
did not develop a rhythm of kombucha
fermentation and she was fermenting
kombucha occasionally. She finds the long
preparation time challenging. However, she
was keeping the kombucha alive during the
Figure 6.A section of a mindmap for integrating learnings
Note: e learnings are connected to the varying themes of human-microbial relation during
kombucha fermentation processes.e learnings emerged from the literature search, learning
diaries, and personal experiences. (see the Appendix G for the entire mindmap)
44 Empirical Learnings
P2: For relieving her digestive metabolism,
she started kombucha fermentation about
two years ago.She developed a rhythm of
fermentation with two different kombucha
batches every week respectively.
P3: She suffered from an immunity-related
disorder (Hashimoto), and one of her
friends with the same health disorder had
mentioned that kombucha improves health.
erefore, P3 started drinking store-bought
kombucha beverages. However, it was
challenging to find bottled kombucha since
kombucha was not common in groceries in
Turkey. Consequently, she started
fermenting kombucha by obtaining SCOBY
from P4 three months ago.
e participants cared for the kombucha
SCOBY because of the benefits kombucha
provides. P2 and P3 were highly enthusiastic
about its taste.
P1 was keeping kombucha SCOBY alive
even she has not been fermenting it for a
long time.
P2 mentioned that she sees kombucha as a
living thing. Even though she had spare
SCOBYs, contaminating one of SCOBYs
made her feel bad. She also mentioned that
being able to drink the produce of a
growing/living thing is very interesting.
P3 mentioned that kombucha is a self-care
activity at the same time. It is spending time
for yourself and your health.
e fermentation process includes sensory
experiences involving visual, olfactory, and
gustatory senses. Senses are used to
troubleshoot the fermentation process.
During fermentation, participants generally
check the growth of the SCOBY to be sure
about its wellbeing.e smell of fermented
tea is another indicator for ensuring the
health of fermentation.
Since kombucha grows in each fermentation
cycle, participants were encouraged by
SCOBY to share it after several
P1 felt an urge to share kombucha because
the SCOBY grows.However, due to Covid-
19 pandemic, she could not find opportunity
to meet friends and share her SCOBY.
P2 shared her kombucha with several
people. She mentioned that some people
might find kombucha SCOBY disgusting at
first, but after tasting it and learning its
benefits, they consider trying it.
All of the participants showed interest in
trying new recipes for kombucha
fermentation. Participants adjust the sugar
level and change the type of tea they are
using for the base liquid. In this manner,
kombucha is open to changes in the recipe.
e participants have not been engaged in
other types of fermentation activities. ey
think that kombucha is very different from
traditional fermentation practices, which
involve yogurt, bread, and pickles in Turkey's
Figure 7.e themes and guiding questions for
preparing interview questions
45Empirical Learnings
traditions. However, participants were not
sure about the main reasons for defining it
as a distinguishing activity. Kombucha was
described as interesting and unusual (even
exotic) by participants. Starting kombucha
fermentation for its touted health benefits
may explain not engaging in other kinds of
fermentation activities.
e interviews enabled me to understand
the personal journeys of the participants and
their fermentation scenarios. e level of
discussions was on an everyday level for
exploring the elements of the fermentation
practice.erefore, we could not explore the
feeling of connectedness in human-
nonhuman relations and the abstract
concepts related to fermentation.e level
of insights about the social side was also
minimal, despite some learnings about
sharing SCOBY and learning its touted
health benefits from friends. e social and
ethical aspects of kombucha fermentation
would be addressed extensively in collective
kombucha fermentation activity.
5.2. Collective Kombucha
Fermentation Activity
In the Collective Kombucha Fermentation
Activity, participants fermented kombucha
simultaneously.e activity primarily aimed
to open up a space for recognizing the
agency of microbes during kombucha
fermentation practice. For this,I outlined a
probing activity and asked the participants
to create their own recipes with
fermentation steps and jot down their
thoughts, feelings, and observations related
to the fermentation experience. I compiled
the recipes of participants into a board to
enable participants to reflect on
fermentation practices collectively.e
activity started with an online meeting on
March 5 and ended with a facilitated
reflection workshop on March 20.In the
final reflection workshop,five participants,
including me, shared their experiences by
reflecting on the fermentation experience
through notes from participants' recipe
notes (see Figure 8).
5.3.1. Designing the Activity
e Collective Kombucha Fermentation
Activity explored several aspects of human-
microbe interactions during fermentation
practices.e focus of the activity involved
the agency of microbes, the ethics of care,
and sensory experience within fermentation
practices and knowledge sharing among
participants. ese themes stemmed from
the learnings from the interviews and
literature review on fermentation and
relationality.e literature on relationality
guided me to explore the agency of
nonhuman entities that are microbes in the
context of fermentation practices.e idea
of interconnectedness and emergence
stemming from relationality contributed to
the concept of ethics of care emerging from
Furthermore,the literature on fermentation
informed the role of sensory experiences in
fermentation. With these objectives, I
designed an activity to enable participants to
delve into and reflect on kombucha
fermentation practices. While the design
probe activity of writing a recipe enabled
participants to delve into the practice, the
final reflection meeting enabled participants
to reflect on their fermentation practices.
5.3.2. Kombucha Recipes as a Design
To enable people to recognize the symbiotic
interaction with the kombucha culture, the
researcher aimed to provide the opportunity
to think about the practice of kombucha.
For this,the participants were asked to
prepare a kombucha fermentation recipe on
46 EmprcaLearnngs
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stepswoudbestedbytepartcpant. e
deventoteermentatonsteps. e
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47Empirical Learnings
and sensory interaction in an online activity
seemed challenging at first. However,online
activity enabled participants to produce the
data in their own environment.
Furthermore,it opened space for self-
observations and immersing into the
fermentation practice individually.
e need for reflection on microbial
interaction stemmed from a normative aim
of recognizing the interconnectedness and
the agency of microbes in fermentation
practices. I did not explicitly mention the
normative goal until the reflection workshop
but the goal guided the design of the
activity. For example,recognition of the
interconnectedness required participants to
delve into the interaction with kombucha
SCOBY.Because of this, I prepared a board
that includes the fermentation steps and
participants' observations, thoughts, and
feelings about the kombucha fermentation
practices. Moreover, during the reflection
workshop,I overviewed the compiled
fermentation notes of the participants. e
overview enabled participants to refresh
their memories about the microbial
interaction. We tried to understand how we
experienced the interconnectedness with
microbes during kombucha fermentation
practices through the compiled fermentation
notes.is understanding stemmed from an
inquiry into the ways fermentation actions
were shaped by the needs and wellbeing of
the kombucha SCOBY.
5.3.4. Insights on the Activity
rough the collective fermentation activity,
participants' observations and collective
reflection unfolded the feeling of
interconnectedness. During the interviews,
most of the participants expressed that they
see fermentation as a mundane activity
without referring to the vitality and agency
of microbes. Yet, group interaction within
the study changed how participants
approached the fermentation activity. Since
the collective kombucha fermentation
activity and the group interaction created a
space to delve into the synergies within
kombucha fermentation practice,
participants started to identify the vitality
and agency of microbes within kombucha
fermentation practices. Furthermore, the
activity revealed the embodied ways of
knowing and sensory experiences informing
relational ethics.
As the activity opened a reflexive space to
think about the practice of kombucha
fermentation, participants found an
opportunity to relate their actions to the
well-being of the non-humans. Providing
food and a proper environment for the
microbes have been the central theme in the
recipes and reflection workshop. As
fermentation involves caring for the
kombucha, the practice refers to the feeling
of responsibility for microbes. For example,
cleaning the fermentation tools, avoiding
touching the SCOBY by hands, and
keeping the fermentation jar in a dust-free
space arise from the goal of providing a
healthy living environment for fermenting
microbes. Although initially, the reason for
keeping SCOBY healthy originated from
the expectation of benefiting from it,
participants had developed a feeling of
connectedness with their SCOBYs over
time. As this attachment informs, the
relational value was evident in the recipe
notes prepared by P4. She reflects on the
necessity to keep SCOBY healthy even
though she had spare SCOBYs.Another
example is P1's discomfort about the idea of
frying and eating kombucha. ese
reflections inform the feeling of
interconnectedness developed through
proximity with microbes over time.
"e older kombucha is growing slowly.
I should have checked it before using
48 Empirical Learnings
stevia... Even though it is old, its survival
is important. Don't leave it starving
deliberately." (written by P4 as a recipe
note, translated from Turkish)
"P4 talked about the idea of frying and
eating [kombucha]. Initial I found it
interesting, but later I could not help
thinking that it was like taking its life"
(written by P1 as a recipe note,
translated from Turkish)
Everyday contingencies and sharing
During the activity, the participants also
influenced each other by sharing knowledge,
incidents, and experiences. For example, P1's
SCOBY was spoiled during the activity.
After learning about this incident, another
participant, P3,noted that she was more
attentive about her SCOBY. After the
spoilage, P1 started a new fermentation
using the SCOBY she obtained from P4.
erefore, the group decided to extend the
activity duration from nine days to fifteen
days to allow P1 to keep up with the group
and participate in the next steps of the
activity. Although P1 obtained SCOBY
thanks to her friend P4, P2 did not have
this chance. P2's SCOBY had spoiled before
the collective kombucha fermentation
activity due to her partner's mistake.
However, having just moved to another
country,she could not obtain a kombucha
SCOBY from another friend. erefore,she
bought a kombucha SCOBY from an online
pharmacy shop. P2 mentioned that she
would obtain SCOBY easier if she were in
her hometown, thanks to the people who
previously provided SCOBY from her.e
incident revealed that when people share
kombucha SCOBY,they also secure their
future SCOBY supply. In the empirical
research, sharing of kombucha related to
everyday contingencies at different levels
and informed the agency of relations in
kombucha fermentation practices.
"I heard that P1's SCOBY has spoiled.
When I read what she [P1] wrote, I
checked mine immediately.I was afraid
it would get mold. I washed my hands. I
took the old SCOBY which was under
the other one.is was the first time I
needed to intervene. I am afraid about
spoiling it due to touching too." (written
by P3 as a recipe note, translated from
Agency of relations
Another interesting insight arose from a
conversation about knowledge sharing
during the reflection workshop.Participants
recognized that they have taken for granted
the knowledge learned from P4, who shared
her SCOBY with other participants in the
past. Participants realized that they maintain
some of the insufficient information
originated from P4. While sharing the
kombucha SCOBY,she also shared the
knowledge that SCOBY should be stored in
the fridge with a cloth cover when not
fermented. However,P2 mentioned that she
bought a kombucha SCOBY in a closed jar.
us the group realized that kombucha
SCOBY could survive even its container
does not breathe.is story revealed that
other participants still applied the
knowledge they took from the SCOBY
provider. Here, the sharing of the SCOBY
on the material level was tied to the
immaterial knowledge of fermentation.e
connection between matter and knowledge
has been revealed thanks to this
conversation. Furthermore, the participants
related this kind of knowledge transfer to
the traditional knowledge, which passes
from generation to generation. In the
context of fermentation, the previous
generation refers to the person who shares
the kombucha with others.To summarize,
the one who shares kombucha also shared
the knowledge of fermentation.
Embodied knowledge
49Empirical Learnings
Participants' recipes included many
instances of personally developed methods.
Participants had enhanced their
fermentation skills by inventing their tricks
and methods. Sensory experience and
embodied knowledge informed the selection
of tools, the execution of steps, gestures,
troubleshooting the condition of liquid, and
fermentation. Furthermore, participants
needed to develop minor fixes to the
difficulties during fermentation. As
mentioned in the interview with Salla
Sariola (see section 5.2), the knowledge of
the chemical processes of fermentation is
not necessary to adjust fermentation to
changing situations. In the collective
kombucha fermentation activity, participants
were able to make adjustments to recipes
and fermentation steps with the embodied
ways of knowing.erefore, embodied way
of knowing informed fermentation practices
and enabled participants to enhance their
fermentation practices.
Sensory experience
In recipe notes and reflection workshop,
participants informed the sensory aspects of
the experience in several fermentation steps.
As the fermentation steps section of the
workshop board shows (see Appendix J),
participants collected sensory information
about the fermentation process through
seeing, smelling, tasting, and touching. e
sensory experience relates to the embodied
knowledge in several ways. First,sensory
experience enables participants to attune
their actions through fermentation. For
example, P4 measures the temperature of
the tea by soaking her finger in the tea.
Second, sensory experience provides the
long-term learnings that contribute to
embodied knowledge. For example, P1
started adding less sugar than usual because
she did not want to feel the taste of sugar in
the end product. Another learning example
related to sensory experience was about
managing the fermentation duration.
Participants knew that extending the
fermentation duration rendered the
beverage sourer by lowering the level of
sweetness.erefore, the senses become
tools for evaluating taste, acidity, measuring
temperature, assessing microbial growth, and
measuring the volume of ingredients.
Senses provided feedback from microbes
during the fermentation processes and
created the knowledge and emotions of the
"If the taste of sugar remains in a
fermented kombucha, it means that
bacteria could not have used all of the
sugar." (a note from the collective
reflection board, translated from
Relational ethics
e embodied knowledge and know-how
are central in fermentation practices.
Participants have mostly obtained the
knowledge of fermentation through
informal knowledge transfer. Still, later, as
they experienced fermentation, they
developed their own methods and tricks by
relying on their senses and embodied
knowledge. In my opinion, this informs a
relational way of knowing in which
knowledge is grounded on relations,other
knowledge, and embodied ways of knowing
about other beings. Beyond the knowledge
embedded in the practice, participants also
developed their own ethical conduct and
performed ethical behaviors unwittingly.e
sensory experience and embodied
knowledge constitute the relational ethics
emerging from the relation with microbes. I
listed the appearances of relational ethics
among the occurrences from the collective
kombucha fermentation activity below:
P4 tried to use stevia instead of sugar for
kombucha fermentation. However, the
fermentation was not progressing as
expected. She added sugar to the
50 Empirical Learnings
fermentation jar when she learned that
stevia might not be a food supply for
kombucha microbes. Although she had
more than one SCOBYs,she cared for
each SCOBY without leaving any of
them starving to death.
After having a spoiled SCOBY,P1 took
a new SCOBY from P4. When P1
wrote about the new SCOBY,she wrote
that "I can't call it my kombucha still. I
don't feel like it belongs to me".is
feeling informs the attachment between
the participant and the microbial
Participants had many concerns about
keeping kombucha SCOBY healthy and
undisturbed. Some of these were
informed by general knowledge about
kombucha fermentation, such as keeping
it in a dustless and dark place, cleaning
the tools, and not exposing kombucha to
heat. Furthermore, participants also
developed their conduct of caring
kombucha in a sensitive way. For
example, placing SCOBY next to other
foods, being afraid of using torchlight to
check its growth were some concerns
that participants developed by
To sum up,embodied ways of knowing and
sensory experiences supported the practice
of caring for kombucha SCOBY.
Consequently, the interaction with microbes
seemed to have resulted in the ethics of care
and relational ethics (see section 3.5).
Flexible, durable, and forgiving
During the reflection workshop, participants
characterized kombucha as a strong culture,
making kombucha fermentation a flexible
and forgiving practice. A participant
mentioned that "kombucha is a strong
bacteria, and it is not like kefir,which dies
easily." Since kombucha overcomes minor
mistakes, the microbial community is
durable and can survive as long as a strong
mold does not contaminate it. Participants
have been trying different tea bases and
spices to personalize the taste of the
beverage. Moreover, they can develop quick
fixes if minor challenges emerge. In this
manner,kombucha is a forgiving companion
which gives space for experimentation.
Having the knowledge and feeling of the
durability of kombucha SCOBY,
participants feel confident when trying new
recipes and creating their own methods of
caring for kombucha SCOBY.
Open and simple
Furthermore, kombucha fermentation
practices do not require special tools.e
material configuration for fermenting
kombucha is simple and open. When
participants lacked some types of
equipment, they easily replaced the missing
tools with others. For example,P1
mentioned that she could not find the cloth
she generally uses for covering the jar's
mouth.en,P1 used a paper towel to cover
the jar.Other participants have also
improvised and adapted fermentation steps
by replacing tools if needed during their
fermentation journeys. Knowing that
kombucha is durable allows improvisations
during fermentation. In this way, the
characteristics of kombucha shaped the
practice of fermentation and the
participants' knowledge and feelings.
In this section, I integrated and analyzed the learnings
from the literature review and empirical research
regarding the research questions (see Section 2.1).
rough the findings section, I explored how
kombucha fermentation practices opened up space for
recognizing relationality with nonhumans; how
attunement occurs within human-nonhuman relations
through sensory experiences and embodied
knowledge; how relational ethics sustain human-
nonhuman relations; and in which ways relational
approaches can ground values within relations in the
context of design for sustainability.
52 Findings
6. Findings
is section groups the learnings from the
literature search on relationality (see Section
3), kombucha fermentation practices (see
Section 4), and the empirical research on
kombucha fermentation practices (see
Section 5).e literature search on
relationality and kombucha fermentation
practices provided theoretical and factual
learnings about the topics.e empirical
research provided experiential learnings
about kombucha fermentation practices
thanks to interviews and the collective
kombucha fermentation activity.ese
learnings are analyzed through the lens of
my background on kombucha fermentation,
design, sustainability, and critical theories.
As I mentioned in Section 1, focusing on
relationships among humans and
nonhumans could enable the sustainability
field to transcend the established conceptual
boundaries that limit knowledge.erefore,
my ambitions involved an emphasis on the
blurry borders between human and
nonhuman entities on a conceptual basis.
Beyond blurring the boundaries among
entities, relational approaches inform
reconsidering the divisions between
epistemological categorizations (see Section
3.3).erefore, the findings section freely
revolves around the categories of knowledge
related to humans, nonhumans, and
sustainability.e concept of material-
semiotic entanglement from feminist
research also encouraged me to
horizontalize different categories of
knowledge in this section.erefore, within
the thesis framework, the definition of
sustainability lies in relationships
transcending systems, societal structures,
ecologies, inner meanings (Ives et al., 2020),
values, and ethics. Moreover, this kind of
approach relates to an intuitive and creative
way of developing connections for
knowledge production about difficult-to-
grasp relations. However, this approach
could jeopardize the validity of the research
when compared to classical reasoning
methods. However, undisciplined thinking
can be a strength in design research for
adopting explorative, creative, and critical
theorizing (Gaver, 2016, p. 193).
e section is organized into four sections
regarding the research questions listed in
Section 2.1. With the research questions, I
aimed to reflect on design for sustainability
through the theoretical concept of
relationality and the empirical experience of
kombucha fermentation practices.e
research questions are set out below.
1. How can kombucha fermentation
practices open up space for recognizing
relationality with nonhumans?
2. In which ways human-nonhuman
entanglement steers kombucha fermentation
3. What kind of ethics sustain human-
nonhuman relations within kombucha
fermentation practices?
4. In which ways can relational approaches
ground values within relations in the context
of design for sustainability?
6.1. Opening up space for
recognizing relationality with
e interviews revealed that participants
started brewing kombucha due to health
concerns, and they continued caring for
their kombucha SCOBY (see Section 5.1.2).
e sensory experience of smelling, seeing,
and tasting enabled the participants to
ensure the wellbeing of the SCOBY. Since
interviews had the goal of understanding
the experiences of participants, the language
of interviews was on the everyday level.
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