Benjamin Klein, Fitzwilliam

Degree: PhD
Course: 1830-PD
Supervisor: Dr Chris Warnes
Dissertation Title:

The Other Life of Our Soils: Soil, Life and Extraction in Contemporary Southern African Fiction

Biographical Information

I completed my BA and BA Honours degrees at the University of Cape Town, where I wrote a dissertation on the contemporary French writer Michel Houellebecq. I thereafter joined the university’s Environmental Humanities South programme, where I completed my MPhil on a fellowship and produced a dissertation on environmental politics and decoloniality in the global South. In 2017 I was awarded the Dorothie Hewlett Scholarship by the School of English at the University of Leeds, where I completed my MA and wrote a dissertation on human-animal relationships in the novels of the contemporary Mozambican writer Mia Couto.

Research Interests

My doctoral research is funded by the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust and Cambridge Trust. I am concerned primarily with the representational politics of soil in contemporary southern African fiction, particularly in relation to narratives of nationalism, economic development, ancestry (notably the blood and soil relationship) and ecological deterioration. The vital role that soil plays in the maintenance and flourishing of life is often marginalised by the competing discourses of national and economic development. My research considers how contemporary authors in southern Africa have registered and countered this discursive hegemony by recuperating human-soil relations through an ecocritical lens. Authors that I am interested in for this project include J. M. Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer, Zakes Mda, Henrietta Rose-Innes and the South African artist William Kentridge.


In general, my research interests alternate between contemporary eco-/environmental criticism and postcolonial thought, with a broad concern for literary engagements with the nonhuman world across varying historical, cultural and geographical contexts in the global South. Moreover, I am interested in the possible alliances between ecological and decolonial objectives in the context of climate disorder and the politics of race, gender, class, knowledge and contemporary geopolitics.


Some additional research interests include:

- the Anthropocene

- animal studies

- posthumanism

- new materialisms

- animism