Kristen R. Ghodsee

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Kristen Ghodsee
Kristen Ghodsee in 2011
Born (1970-04-26) April 26, 1970 (age 44)
Nationality American
Fields Ethnography
Gender theory
Women's Studies
Institutions Bowdoin College
Alma mater University of California at Berkeley
University of California at Santa Cruz
Notable awards Guggenheim Fellowship

Kristen Ghodsee (born 1970) is an American ethnographer and a Professor of Gender and Women's Studies at Bowdoin College.[1] She is known primarily for her ethnographic work on post-communist Bulgaria as well as being a key player in the field of postsocialist gender studies.[2] Contrary to the prevailing opinion of most feminist scholars in the 1990s who believed that women would be disproportionately harmed by the collapse of communism, Ghodsee argued that many East European women would actually fare better than men in newly competitive labor markets because of the cultural capital that they had acquired before 1989.[3] She was also critical of the role of Western feminist nongovernmental organizations doing work among East European women in the 1990s.[4] Ghodsee has also examined the shifting gender relations of Muslim minorities after communism,[5] and the intersections of Islamic beliefs and practices with the ideological remains of Marxism-Leninism.[6]


Ghodsee received her B.A. from the University of California at Santa Cruz and her Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. She has been awarded numerous research fellowships, including those from the National Science Foundation, Fulbright, the American Council of Learned Societies,[7] the International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX), and the National Council for Eurasian and East European Research. Ghodsee has also been a resident fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton,[8][9] The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington,[10] The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University,[11] and the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS).[12]

In 2012, Kristen Ghodsee was elected president of the Society for Humanistic Anthropology.[13].

Red Nostalgia[edit]

In 2004, Ghodsee published one of the first articles considering the gendered aspects of the growing nostalgia for the communist era in Eastern Europe.[14] Already beginning in the late 1990s, various scholars were examining the phenomenon of Ostalgie in former East Germany and what had been called “Yugo-nostalgia” in the successor states of the former Yugoslavia.[15] This earlier work on the emergence of communist nostalgia focused on its consumer aspects and considered the phenomenon a necessary phase that post-socialist populations needed to pass through in order to fully break with their communist pasts.[16] In contrast, Ghodsee’s concept of “red nostalgia” considered how individual men and women experienced the loss of the real material benefits of the socialist past.[17][18] Rather than just a wistful glance back at a lost youth, red nostalgia formed the basis of an emerging critique of the political and economic upheavals that characterized the post-socialist era.[19][20] More recently, Ghodsee has explored the politics of public memory about communism, World War II, and the Bulgarian Holocaust.[21][22]

Literary Ethnography[edit]

Ghodsee’s later work combines traditional ethnography with a literary sensibility, employing the stylistic conventions of creative nonfiction to produce academic texts that are meant to be accessible to a wider audience. Inspired by the work of Clifford Geertz and the conventions of “thick description,” Ghodsee is a proponent of “literary ethnography.”[23] This genre uses narrative tension, dialogue and lyrical prose in the presentation of ethnographic data. Furthermore, Ghodsee argues that literary ethnographies are often “documentary ethnographies,” i.e. ethnographies whose primary purpose is to explore the inner working of a particular culture without necessarily subsuming these observations to a specific theoretical agenda.[24]

Ghodsee’s third book, Lost in Transition: Ethnographies of Everyday Life After Communism, combines personal ethnographic essays with ethnographic fiction to paint a human portrait of the political and economic transition from communism.[25] While some reviewers have found the book “compelling and highly readable,”[26] and “an enchanting, deeply intimate and experimental ethnographic narrative,”[27] others have faulted the book for telling a story “at the expense of theory.”[28] Indeed, the fact that the book is “remarkably free of academic jargon and neologisms”[29] has produced very “mixed feelings”[30] within the scholarly community with one critic stating that “the somewhat unconventional technique of incorporating fiction alongside her [Ghodsee's] ethnographic vignettes feels a bit forced.”[31] Outside of academia, however, one reviewer claimed that Lost in Transition "is very easy to read and is, in fact, impossible to put down, largely because it is so well-written."[32]


Kristen Ghodsee's 2010 book, Muslim Lives in Eastern Europe: Gender, Ethnicity and the Transformation of Islam in Postsocialist Bulgaria was awarded the 2010 Barbara Heldt Prize for the best book[33] by a woman in Slavic/Eurasian/East European Studies,[34] the 2011 Harvard University/Davis Center Book Prize[35] from the Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies, the 2011 John D. Bell Book Prize[36] from the Bulgarian Studies Association and the 2011 William A. Douglass Prize in Europeanist Anthropology[37] from the Society for the Anthropology of Europe[38] of the American Anthropological Association.[39]

Ghodsee also won the [40] from the Society for Humanistic Anthropology for the short story "Tito Trivia," included in her book, Lost in Transition: Ethnographies of Everyday Life After Communism.[41] Together with co-author, Charles Dorn, Ghodsee was awarded the 2012 Best Article Prize from the History of Education Society (HES) for Dorn and Ghodsee's article in the journal Diplomatic History: “The Cold War Politicization of Literacy: UNESCO, Communism, and the World Bank.”[42]

In 2012, she won a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship for her work in anthropology and cultural studies.[43][44][45]


Significant Journal Articles[edit]

  • "Pressuring the Politburo: The Committee of the Bulgarian Women's Movement and State Socialist Feminism,"[46] Slavic Review, Volume 73, Number 2, Fall 2014.
  • “Decentering Agency in Feminist Theory: Social Democracy, Postsocialism, and the Re-engagement of the Social Good” with Amy Borovoy, Women’s Studies International Forum, 35 (2012): 153-165
  • “The Cold War Politicization of Literacy: UNESCO, Communism, and the World Bank,” with Charles Dorn, Diplomatic History, 36(2) 2011: 373-398[49]
  • “Socialist Secularism: Gender, Religion and Modernity in Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, 1946-1989” with Pam Ballinger, Aspasia: The International Yearbook of Central, Eastern, and Southeastern European Women's and Gender History, Vol. 5: 6-27
  • "Revisiting the International Decade for Women: Brief Reflections on Competing Definitions of Feminism and Cold War Politics from the American Perspective," Women's Studies International Forum, (2010) 33: 3-12
  • "Left Wing, Right Wing, Everything: Xenophobia, Neo-totalitarianism and Populist Politics in Contemporary Bulgaria",[50] Problems of Post-Communism, (Vol. 55, No. 3 May–June 2008)
  • "Religious Freedoms versus Gender Equality: Faith-Based Organizations, Muslim Minorities and Islamic Headscarves in Modern Bulgaria," Social Politics, (Vol. 14, No. 4, 2007)
  • "Коса" - разказ от Кристен Ghodsee ["Hair" in Bulgarian]
  • "Tito Trivia,"[51] Anthropology and Humanism, Vol. 37, No. 1, June 2012: 105-108.


  1. ^ Bowdoin College Promotes Four Women to Full Professor:
  2. ^
  3. ^ Anthropology Review Database review of the Red Riviera
  4. ^ Nongovernmental Ogres? How Feminist NGOs Undermine Women in Postsocialist Eastern Europe
  5. ^ "Minarets After Marx":
  6. ^ See, for instance:
  7. ^ ACLS award page
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Kristen Ghodsee WWICS Page
  11. ^ Kristen Ghodsee Radcliffe IAS page
  12. ^
  13. ^ Society for Humanistic Anthropology:
  14. ^ Red Nostalgia? Communism, Women's Emancipation, and Economic Transformation in Bulgaria,
  15. ^ See, for instance Daphne Berdahl, "Ostalgie for the Present: Memory, Longing and East German Things" Ethnos, 1999 (
  16. ^ Daphne Berdahl, "Go, Trabi, Go!": Reflections on a Car and Its Symbolization over Time (
  17. ^ Ghodsee of Nostalgia for communism
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^ "Confidence in Democracy and Capitalism Wanes in Former Soviet Union"
  21. ^ Victims of Communism and Historical Amnesia in Eastern Europe:
  22. ^ " A Tale of “Two Totalitarianisms”: The Crisis of Capitalism and the Historical Memory of Communism" -
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^ Review of Lost in Transition by Anthony Giorgieff (
  33. ^
  34. ^ Heldt Prize past recipients
  35. ^
  36. ^ 2011 John D. Bell Book Prize -
  37. ^
  38. ^ 2011 SAE Douglass Prize Announcement
  39. ^ "Bowdoin Professor Wins Book Award"
  40. ^ 2011 Ethnographic Fiction Prize:
  41. ^ Duke University Press Awards Page:
  42. ^
  43. ^ Kristen Ghodsee's Guggenheim Page:
  44. ^ 2 Maine Educators win Guggenheims
  45. ^ Bowdoin, Colby Profs win Guggenheims
  46. ^ "Pressuring the Politburo: The Committee of the Bulgarian Women's Movement and State Socialist Feminism,"
  47. ^
  48. ^
  49. ^
  50. ^
  51. ^

Interviews with Kristen Ghodsee[edit]

External links[edit]