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Kristen Ghodsee

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Kristen Ghodsee
Kristen Ghodsee in 2011
Kristen Rogheh Ghodsee

(1970-04-26) April 26, 1970 (age 54)
Alma mater
AwardsGuggenheim Fellowship
Scientific career
Gender theory
InstitutionsUniversity of Pennsylvania

Kristen Rogheh Ghodsee (born April 26, 1970) is an American ethnographer and Professor of Russian and East European Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.[1] She is primarily known for her ethnographic work on post-Communist Bulgaria as well as being a contributor to the field of postsocialist gender studies.[2] She was critical of the role of Western feminist nongovernmental organizations doing work among East European women in the 1990s. She has also examined the shifting gender relations of Muslim minorities after Communist rule,[3] the intersections of Islamic beliefs and practices with the ideological remains of Marxism–Leninism,[4] communist nostalgia, the legacies of Marxist feminism,[5] and the intellectual history of utopianism.[6]


Ghodsee received her B.A. from the University of California at Santa Cruz and her PhD 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. She was 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] the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS),[12] the Aleksanteri Institute at the University of Helsinki in Finland,[13] and the Imre Kertész Kolleg at the Friedrich-Schiller-Universität in Jena.[14] In 2012, she was elected president of the Society for Humanistic Anthropology.[15]

In 2021, Ghodsee was an invited professor at the Center for History at Sciences Po in Paris, France.[16] In July 2022, she was appointed the chair of the Department of Russian and East European Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.[17]


Red nostalgia, victims of Communism, and neoliberalism[edit]

In 2004, Ghodsee published one of the first articles considering the gendered aspects of the growing Communist nostalgia in Eastern Europe.[18] 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 Socialist Yugoslavia.[19] This earlier work on the emergence of Communist nostalgia focused on its consumer aspects and considered the phenomenon a necessary phase that post-Communist populations needed to pass through in order to fully break with their Communist pasts.[20] In contrast, her concept of "red nostalgia" considered how individual men and women experienced the loss of the real material benefits of the socialist past.[21][22] 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 postsocialist era.[23][24]

Ghodsee has explored the politics of public memory about Communist states, World War II, and the Holocaust in Bulgaria.[25][26] According Ghodsee, the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation is a conservative anti-communist organization which seeks to equate communism with murder such as by erecting billboards in Times Square which declare "100 years, 100 million killed" and "Communism kills."[27] Ghodsee posits that the foundation, along with counterpart conservative organizations in Eastern Europe, seeks to institutionalize the "Victims of Communism" narrative as a double genocide theory, or the moral equivalence between the Nazi Holocaust (race murder) and the victims of Communism (class murder).[27][28] Ghodsee argues the 100 million estimate favored by the foundation is dubious, as their source for this is the controversial introduction to The Black Book of Communism by Stéphane Courtois.[27] She also says that this effort by anti-communist conservative organizations has intensified, in particular the recent push at the beginning of the global financial crisis for commemoration of the latter in Europe, and can be seen as the response by economic and political elites to fears of a leftist resurgence in the face of devastated economies and extreme inequalities in both the East and West as the result of the excesses of neoliberal capitalism. Ghodsee argues that any discussion of the achievements under Communist states, including literacy, education, women's rights, and social security is usually silenced, and any discourse on the subject of communism is focused almost exclusively on Stalin's crimes and the double genocide theory.[28]

In her 2017 book Red Hangover: Legacies of Twentieth-Century Communism, Ghodsee posits that the triumphalist attitudes of Western powers at the end of the Cold War, and the fixation with linking all leftist and socialist political ideals with the horrors of Stalinism, allowed neoliberalism to fill the void, which undermined democratic institutions and reforms, leaving a trail of economic misery, unemployment, hopelessness and rising inequality throughout the former Eastern Bloc and much of the West in the following decades that has fueled the rise of extremist right-wing nationalism in both the former and the latter. She says that the time has come "to rethink the democratic project and finally do the work necessary to either rescue it from the death grip of neoliberalism, or replace it with a new political ideal that leads us forward to a new stage of human history."[29]

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.[30] Inspired by the work of Clifford Geertz and the conventions of "thick description", she is a proponent of "literary ethnography."[31] 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.[32]

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 Communist rule.[33] While some reviewers have found the book "compelling and highly readable",[34] and "an enchanting, deeply intimate and experimental ethnographic narrative",[35] others have faulted the book for telling a story "at the expense of theory."[36] That the book was judged "remarkably free of academic jargon and neologisms"[37] produced very "mixed feelings"[36] 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."[38] 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."[39]


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,[40] by a woman in Slavic/Eurasian/East European Studies,[41] the 2011 Harvard University/Davis Center Book Prize[42] from the Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies, the 2011 John D. Bell Book Prize[43] from the Bulgarian Studies Association and the 2011 William A. Douglass Prize in Europeanist Anthropology[44] from the Society for the Anthropology of Europe[45] of the American Anthropological Association.[46]

Ghodsee won the 2011 Ethnographic Fiction Prize[47] 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.[48] Together with co-author, Charles Dorn, Ghodsee was awarded the 2012 Best Article Prize from the History of Education Society (HES) for the article in the journal Diplomatic History: “The Cold War Politicization of Literacy: UNESCO, Communism, and the World Bank.”[49] In 2012, she won a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship for her work in anthropology and cultural studies.[50][51][52]

Scholarly feminist review[edit]

In a 2014 essay in the European Journal of Women's Studies, philosopher Nanette Funk included Ghodsee among a handful of "Revisionist Feminist Scholars" who uncritically tout the achievements of communist-era women's organizations, ignoring the oppressive nature of authoritarian regimes in Eastern Europe.[53] Funk argued that the "Feminist Revisionists" are too eager in their "desire to find women’s agency in an anti-capitalist Marxist past" and that this "leads to distortions" and "making overly bold claims" about the possibilities for feminist activism under Communist states.[54]

In response, Ghodsee asserts that her scholarship seeks to expand the idea of feminism beyond the attainment of "personal self-actualization", asserting that "if the goal of feminism is to improve women's lives, along with eliminating discrimination and promoting equality with men, then there is ample room to reconsider what Krassimira Daskalova calls the 'women-friendly' policies of state socialist women's organizations". She notes that "the goal of much recent scholarship on state socialist women's organizations is to show how the communist ideology could lead to real improvements in women's literacy, education, professional training, as well as access to health care, the extension of paid maternity leave, and a reduction of their economic dependence on men (facts that even Funk does not deny)".[55]

Personal life[edit]

Ghodsee identifies herself as being of "Puerto Rican-Persian" heritage.[56] Her father was Persian, and her mother Puerto Rican. Ghodsee grew up in San Diego. While attending university she met and married a Bulgarian law student. She is the mother of one teenage daughter.


Significant journal articles[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Faculty page
  2. ^ "Gender, Socialism, and Postsocialism: Transatlantic Dialogues | Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University". Radcliffe.harvard.edu. 2012-07-17. Archived from the original on 2013-05-10. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  3. ^ Kristen Ghodsee (2010-04-21). "Minarets after Marx: Islam, Communist Nostalgia, and the Common Good in Postsocialist Bulgaria". Intl-eep.sagepub.com. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  4. ^ Ghodsee, Kristen (2009-05-07). "The Headscarf Debate in Bulgaria". Anthropology News. 50 (5): 31–32. doi:10.1111/j.1556-3502.2009.50531_2.x.
  5. ^ Review of Red Valkyries in Jacobin Magazine
  6. ^ Review of Everyday Utopia in The Wall Street Journal
  7. ^ "Kristen R. Ghodsee G'09, F'05". Acls.org. Archived from the original on 2021-11-12. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  8. ^ "Past Scholars | School of Social Science". Sss.ias.edu. Archived from the original on 2009-09-29. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  9. ^ "Ghodsee, Kristen Rogheh | Institute for Advanced Study". Ias.edu. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  10. ^ "Kristen R. Ghodsee". Wilsoncenter.org. 2011-07-07. Archived from the original on 2012-04-18. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  11. ^ "Fellow | Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University". Radcliffe.harvard.edu. 2012-03-16. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  12. ^ "Prof. Dr. Kristen R. Ghodsee — Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies". Frias.uni-freiburg.de. 2011-08-10. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  13. ^ List of Aleksanteri Institute Alumni
  14. ^ Kristen Ghodsee at the Imre Kertész Kolleg
  15. ^ "Officers and Board Members | Society for Humanistic Anthropology". Aaanet.org. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  16. ^ Kristen Ghodsee and Mario Kessler at Sciences Po
  17. ^ Duyen Nguyen, “Ordinary Lives, Extra Ordinary Lives,” OMNIA, November 22, 2022.
  18. ^ "15, 1 (2004), Post/Kommunismen". Univie.ac.at. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  19. ^ Daphne Berdahla. "'(N)Ostalgie' for the present: Memory, longing, and East German things" (PDF). Diasporiclivesofobjects2012.files.wordpress.com. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  20. ^ Berdahl, Daphne (2000). ""Go, Trabi, Go!": Reflections on a Car and Its Symbolization over Time". Anthropology and Humanism. 25 (2): 131–141. doi:10.1525/ahu.2000.25.2.131.
  21. ^ "Dr. Kristen Ghodsee, Bowdoin College - Nostalgia for Communism". Wamc.org. 2011-11-01. Archived from the original on 2020-11-11. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  22. ^ "Abstracts for L'Homme 1/2004". Eurozine.com. 2004-11-08. Archived from the original on 2013-12-02. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  23. ^ "The Specter Still Haunts: Revisiting 1989". Dissentmagazine.org. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  24. ^ "Confidence in Democracy and Capitalism Wanes in Former Soviet Union - Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project". Pewglobal.org. 2011-12-05. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  25. ^ "Victims of Communism and Historical Amnesia in Eastern Europe". Muftah.org. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  26. ^ Ghodsee profile, jstor.org; accessed April 11, 2015.
  27. ^ a b c Ghodsee, Kristen R.; Sehon, Scott; Dresser, Sam, ed. (22 March 2018). "The merits of taking an anti-anti-communism stance". Aeon. Retrieved 11 February 2020.
  28. ^ a b Ghodsee, Kristen (Fall 2014). "A Tale of 'Two Totalitarianisms': The Crisis of Capitalism and the Historical Memory of Communism". History of the Present: A Journal of Critical History. 4 (2): 115–142. doi:10.5406/historypresent.4.2.0115. JSTOR 10.5406/historypresent.4.2.0115.
  29. ^ Ghodsee, Kristen (2017). Red Hangover: Legacies of Twentieth-Century Communism. Duke University Press. pp. xix–xx, 134, 197–200. ISBN 978-0822369493.
  30. ^ From Notes to Narrative: Writing Ethnographies that Everyone Can Read. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016
  31. ^ Tsao, Eugenia (2011-12-09). "Walking the Walk: On the Epistemological Merits of Literary Ethnography". Anthropology and Humanism. 36 (2): 178–192. doi:10.1111/j.1548-1409.2011.01091.x.
  32. ^ "Literary Ethnography". Literary-ethnography.tumblr.com. Archived from the original on 2014-12-08. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  33. ^ "The Road to Bulgaria, 1983-1990" (PDF). Bowdoin.edu. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  34. ^ "Lost in Transition: Ethnographies of Everyday Life after Communism | General". Timeshighereducation.co.uk. 2012-01-26. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  35. ^ Jung, Yuson (2012). "Project MUSE - Lost In Transition: Ethnographies of the Everyday Life After Communism (review)". Anthropological Quarterly. 85 (2): 587–592. doi:10.1353/anq.2012.0032. S2CID 144736571.
  36. ^ a b Oustinova-Stjepanovic, Galina (2013-02-06). "Lost in transition. Ethnographies of everyday life after communism by Ghodsee, Kristen". Social Anthropology. 21 (1): 104–106. doi:10.1111/1469-8676.12004_9.
  37. ^ "Lost in Transition: Ethnographies of Everyday Life after Communism. Kristen Ghodsee". Americanethnologist.org. Archived from the original on 2015-04-03. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  38. ^ Mandel, Ruth (2012-12-01). "Kristen Ghodsee, Lost in Transition: Ethnographies of Everyday Life after Communism". Critique of Anthropology. 32 (4): 501–502. doi:10.1177/0308275X12466867b. S2CID 147659638. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  39. ^ [1] Archived October 16, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
  40. ^ "Ghodsee Book Wins Award For Best in Field, Academic Spotlight (Bowdoin)". Bowdoin.edu. 2010-10-14. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  41. ^ "Association for Women in Slavic Studies (AWSS)". Awsshome.org. Archived from the original on 2012-03-13. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  42. ^ Nina Bahadur (2011-10-24). "Kristen Ghodsee wins the 2011 Davis Center Book Prize". Press.princeton.edu. Archived from the original on 2011-10-30. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  43. ^ Nina Bahadur (2011-11-18). ""Muslim Lives in Eastern Europe" wins the John D. Bell Memorial Book Prize". Press.princeton.edu. Archived from the original on 2011-11-22. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  44. ^ Jessica Pellien (2011-09-01). "Muslim Lives in Eastern Europe wins 2011 William A. Douglass Prize in Europeanist Anthropology". Press.princeton.edu. Archived from the original on 2011-12-22. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  45. ^ "H-Net Discussion Networks - SAE: 2011 Douglass Prize to Kristen Ghodsee". H-net.msu.edu. 2011-09-06. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  46. ^ "Bowdoin Professor Wins Book Award: Women In Academia Report". Wiareport.com. 2011-09-15. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  47. ^ "SHA Prize Winners | Society for Humanistic Anthropology". Aaanet.org. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  48. ^ "Duke University Press". Dukeupress.edu. Archived from the original on 2013-04-03. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  49. ^ "H-Diplo article review: Charles Dorn and Kristen Ghodsee. "The Cold War Politicization of Literacy: Communism, UNESCO, and the World Bank."" (PDF). H-Net.org. 2015-03-27. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  50. ^ "Kristen R. Ghodsee - John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation". Gf.org. Archived from the original on 2012-04-15. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  51. ^ "2 Maine educators win Guggenheim fellowships - The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram". Pressherald.com. 2012-04-15. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  52. ^ "Bowdoin, Colby profs win Guggenheims - The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram". Pressherald.com. 2012-04-13. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  53. ^ Funk, Nanette (2014). "A very tangled knot: Official state socialist women's organizations, women's agency and feminism in Eastern European state socialism". European Journal of Women's Studies. 21 (4): 344–360. doi:10.1177/1350506814539929. S2CID 145809595.
  54. ^ Funk, Nanette (2015). "(K)not so: A response to Kristen Ghodsee". European Journal of Women's Studies. 22 (3): 350–355. doi:10.1177/1350506815592759. S2CID 148832342.
  55. ^ Ghodsee, Kristen R. (2015). "Untangling the knot: A response to Nanette Funk" (PDF). European Journal of Women's Studies. 22 (2): 248–252. doi:10.1177/1350506815571264. S2CID 146896549.
  56. ^ Castro, A. Peter. "Red Hangover: Legacies of Twentieth-Century Communism." Journal of International and Global Studies, vol. 9, no. 2, June 2018, pp. 146+. Gale Academic OneFile, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A565970268/AONE?u=wikipedia&sid=ebsco&xid=d7773e1c. Accessed 12 July 2022.
  57. ^ Selected Foreign Language Editions of Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism
  58. ^ "Slavic Review". Slavicreview.illinois.edu. 1948-06-24. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  59. ^ "Subtle Censorships | Journal of Women's History". Bingdev.binghamton.edu. Archived from the original on 2013-09-15. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  60. ^ Ghodsee, Kristen (1970-01-01). "Feminism-by-Design: Emerging Capitalisms, Cultural Feminism and Women's Nongovernmental Organizations in Post-Socialist Eastern Europe | Kristen Ghodsee". Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. 29 (3): 727–753. doi:10.1086/380631. S2CID 145465152. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  61. ^ Ghodsee, Kristen (1970-01-01). "Left Wing, Right Wing, Everything: Xenophobia, Neo-totalitarianism and Populist Politics in Contemporary Bulgaria | Kristen R. Ghodsee". Problems of Post-Communism. 55 (3): 26–39. doi:10.2753/PPC1075-8216550303. S2CID 154912175. Retrieved 2015-04-02.
  62. ^ Ghodsee, Kristen (2012-06-11). "Tito Trivia". Anthropology and Humanism. 37 (1): 105–108. doi:10.1111/j.1548-1409.2012.01111.x.

External links[edit]