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In The Open | Natalie Joelle

Natalie Joelle is writing a transdisciplinary study of gleaning and lean culture at Birkbeck, University of London, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Her environmental humanities project considers gleaning as an agricultural and thinking practice, and its relations to leaning and lean thinking, which she terms ‘gleanologics’. She has published critical and creative work on Georges Seurat's drawing 'The Gleaner', The Book of Ruth, Jean-Francois Millet's The Gleaners and Glean Cereal Herbicide, and her writing forthcoming includes considerations of gleaning in the work of Peter Larkin, Jim Crace's novel Harvest, agrotechnological innovations, and managerial handbooks. She has also designed and curated a mini-exhibition of artefacts exploring gleaning and lean culture using a restored lean-to greenhouse, which was installed across HE and community settings.

Natalie is currently a 2016-17 Fellow at the John W. Kluge Center, Library of Congress.

Further information about her work is available on

‘From time immemorial the gleaner has shared [...] the adoration of the poet and the painter [...] in many a glowing verse, and on many a charming canvas [...] all the same, the truth forces itself upon us that [...] the days of the gleaner are at an end’

– ‘Exit The Gleaner’, Sheffield Independent, 1900

From time immemorial the gleaner has lived on a knife edge; in early twentieth-century Sheffield, the gleaner became one. THE GLEANER safety razor by John Watts Co. borrows its brand of scraping from those who scrape a living by picking up what is left after the harvest.

Today the former Watts building remains emblazoned with an advert for ‘the celebrated Gleaner double-edged blade’. Like the celebrated Gleaner blade, the practice of gleaning is ‘double-edged’: no ‘gleaning’ without ‘leaning’; rarely ‘glean’ without ‘lean’. The shifting meaning of gleaning calls out lean culture at its leanest.