Kristen R. Ghodsee

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Kristen R. Ghodsee
Kristen Ghodsee in 2011
Born (1970-04-26) April 26, 1970 (age 47)
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 R. Ghodsee (born April 26, 1970) is an American ethnographer and a Professor of Gender and Women's Studies at Bowdoin College,[1] known primarily for her ethnographic work on post-communist Bulgaria as well as being a contributor to 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 critical of the role of Western feminist nongovernmental organizations doing work among East European women in the 1990s. She examined the shifting gender relations of Muslim minorities after communism,[4] and the intersections of Islamic beliefs and practices with the ideological remains of Marxism-Leninism.[5]


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,[6] 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,[7][8] The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington,[9] The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University,[10] and the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS).[11] In 2012, she was elected president of the Society for Humanistic Anthropology.[12]

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.[13] 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.[14] 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.[15] 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.[16][17] 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.[18][19] More recently, Ghodsee has explored the politics of public memory about communism, World War II, and the Bulgarian Holocaust.[20][21]

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”, she is a proponent of “literary ethnography.”[22] 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.[23]

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.[24] While some reviewers have found the book “compelling and highly readable,”[25] and “an enchanting, deeply intimate and experimental ethnographic narrative,”[26] others have faulted the book for telling a story “at the expense of theory.”[27] That the book was judged "remarkably free of academic jargon and neologisms”[28] produced very “mixed feelings”[27] 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.”[29] 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."[30]


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[31] by a woman in Slavic/Eurasian/East European Studies,[32] the 2011 Harvard University/Davis Center Book Prize[33] from the Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies, the 2011 John D. Bell Book Prize[34] from the Bulgarian Studies Association and the 2011 William A. Douglass Prize in Europeanist Anthropology[35] from the Society for the Anthropology of Europe[36] of the American Anthropological Association.[37]

Ghodsee also won the [38] 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.[39] 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.”[40]

In 2012, she won a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship for her work in anthropology and cultural studies.[41][42][43]


Ghodsee’s scholarly work on gender and everyday life during and after socialism has drawn criticism from both Western feminists and communists. 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.[44] 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 communism.[45]


Significant journal articles[edit]


  1. ^ "Bowdoin College Promotes Four Women to Full Professor: Women In Academia Report". 2014-04-25. Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  2. ^ "Gender, Socialism, and Postsocialism: Transatlantic Dialogues | Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University". Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  3. ^ "Anthropology Review Database". 2008-02-25. Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  4. ^ Kristen Ghodsee (2010-04-21). "Minarets after Marx: Islam, Communist Nostalgia, and the Common Good in Postsocialist Bulgaria". Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  5. ^ "The Headscarf Debate in Bulgaria". Anthropology News. 50 (5): 31–32. 2009-05-07. doi:10.1111/j.1556-3502.2009.50531_2.x. Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  6. ^ "Kristen R. Ghodsee G'09, F'05". Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  7. ^ "Past Scholars | School of Social Science". Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  8. ^ "Ghodsee, Kristen Rogheh | Institute for Advanced Study". Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  9. ^ "Kristen R. Ghodsee". Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  10. ^ "Fellow | Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University". Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  11. ^ "Prof. Dr. Kristen R. Ghodsee — Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies". 2011-08-10. Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  12. ^ "Officers and Board Members | Society for Humanistic Anthropology". Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  13. ^ "15, 1 (2004), Post/Kommunismen". Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  14. ^ Daphne Berdahla. "'(N)Ostalgie' for the present: Memory, longing, and East German things" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  15. ^ ""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. Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  16. ^ "Dr. Kristen Ghodsee, Bowdoin College - Nostalgia for Communism". 2011-11-01. Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  17. ^ "Abstracts for L'Homme 1/2004". Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  18. ^ "The Specter Still Haunts: Revisiting 1989". Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  19. ^ "Confidence in Democracy and Capitalism Wanes in Former Soviet Union - Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project". 2011-12-05. Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  20. ^ "Victims of Communism and Historical Amnesia in Eastern Europe". Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  21. ^ Ghodsee profile,; accessed April 11, 2015.
  22. ^ "Walking the Walk: On the Epistemological Merits of Literary Ethnography". Anthropology and Humanism. 36 (2): 178–192. 2011-12-09. doi:10.1111/j.1548-1409.2011.01091.x. Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  23. ^ "Literary Ethnography". Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  24. ^ "The Road to Bulgaria, 1983-1990" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  25. ^ "Lost in Transition: Ethnographies of Everyday Life after Communism | General". 2012-01-26. Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  26. ^ "Project MUSE - Lost In Transition: Ethnographies of the Everyday Life After Communism (review)" (PDF). doi:10.1353/anq.2012.0032. Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  27. ^ a b "Lost in transition. Ethnographies of everyday life after communism by Ghodsee, Kristen". Social Anthropology. 21 (1): 104–106. 2013-02-06. doi:10.1111/1469-8676.12004_9. Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  28. ^ "Lost in Transition: Ethnographies of Everyday Life after Communism. Kristen Ghodsee". Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  29. ^ "Kristen Ghodsee, Lost in Transition: Ethnographies of Everyday Life after Communism". 2012-12-01. Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  30. ^ [1] Archived October 16, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
  31. ^ "Ghodsee Book Wins Award For Best in Field, Academic Spotlight (Bowdoin)". 2010-10-14. Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  32. ^ "Association for Women in Slavic Studies (AWSS)". Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  33. ^ Nina Bahadur (2011-10-24). "Kristen Ghodsee wins the 2011 Davis Center Book Prize". Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  34. ^ Nina Bahadur (2011-11-18). ""Muslim Lives in Eastern Europe" wins the John D. Bell Memorial Book Prize". Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  35. ^ Jessica Pellien (2011-09-01). "Muslim Lives in Eastern Europe wins 2011 William A. Douglass Prize in Europeanist Anthropology". Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  36. ^ "H-Net Discussion Networks - SAE: 2011 Douglass Prize to Kristen Ghodsee". 2011-09-06. Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  37. ^ "Bowdoin Professor Wins Book Award: Women In Academia Report". 2011-09-15. Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  38. ^ "SHA Prize Winners | Society for Humanistic Anthropology". Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  39. ^ "Duke University Press". Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  40. ^ "H-Diplo" (PDF). 2015-03-27. Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  41. ^ "Kristen R. Ghodsee - John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation". Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  42. ^ "2 Maine educators win Guggenheim fellowships - The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram". 2012-04-15. Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  43. ^ "Bowdoin, Colby profs win Guggenheims - The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram". 2012-04-13. Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  44. ^ 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. 
  45. ^ 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. 
  46. ^ "Slavic Review". 1948-06-24. Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  47. ^ "Subtle Censorships | Journal of Women's History". Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  48. ^ "Feminism-by-Design: Emerging Capitalisms, Cultural Feminism and Women's Nongovernmental Organizations in Post-Socialist Eastern Europe | Kristen Ghodsee". 1970-01-01. Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  49. ^ "Left Wing, Right Wing, Everything: Xenophobia, Neo-totalitarianism and Populist Politics in Contemporary Bulgaria | Kristen R. Ghodsee". 1970-01-01. Retrieved 2015-04-02. 
  50. ^ "Tito Trivia". Anthropology and Humanism. 37 (1): 105–108. 2012-06-11. doi:10.1111/j.1548-1409.2012.01111.x. Retrieved 2015-04-02. 

Interviews with Kristen Ghodsee[edit]

External links[edit]