Gleaning

Gleaning

Gleaning has been a customary right to farm products in Europe and elsewhere since the Middle Ages. It refers to both the right and the practice of gathering leftover crops from farmers’ fields after they have been commercially harvested or where reaping is not economically viable. Gleaning differs from scrounging in that, unlike the latter, it is legally regulated – it is a common and informal type of usufruct that ensures glean- ers a circumscribed right to use (usus) others’ property and to enjoy its fruits (fructus). Because it is specifically regulated (for instance, after thrashing, the collecting of the straw and the fallen grains of wheat is authorised) it is distinguished from pilfering – defined as the offence of stealing fruit or vegetables before they have fallen to the ground. A more subordinate mode of usership than, say, poaching, gleaning is nevertheless significant because it points to historically entrenchced rights of common usership over resources found in private domains. Today, immaterial gleaning is widely practiced by a whole host of art-related practitioners; its agricultural antecedents offer it a haven from encroachment by groups lobbying on behalf of increased intellectual property rights and the foreclosure of the epistemic commons.

Taken from “Toward a Lexicon of Usership” by Stephen Wright.