Kristen R. Ghodsee (born April 26, 1970) is an American ethnographer and Professor of Russian and East European Studies at the University of Pennsylvania known primarily for her ethnographic work on post-communist Bulgaria as well as being a contributor to the field of postsocialist gender studies. 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. 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, and the intersections of Islamic beliefs and practices with the ideological remains of Marxism–Leninism.
In 2004, Ghodsee published one of the first articles considering the gendered aspects of the growing nostalgia for the communist era in Eastern Europe. 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. 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. 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. 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. More recently, Ghodsee has explored the politics of public memory about communism, World War II, and the Bulgarian Holocaust.
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 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."
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.” 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.
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. While some reviewers have found the book “compelling and highly readable,” and “an enchanting, deeply intimate and experimental ethnographic narrative,” others have faulted the book for telling a story “at the expense of theory.” That the book was judged "remarkably free of academic jargon and neologisms” produced very “mixed feelings” 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.” 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."
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 by a woman in Slavic/Eurasian/East European Studies, the 2011 Harvard University/Davis Center Book Prize from the Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies, the 2011 John D. Bell Book Prize from the Bulgarian Studies Association and the 2011 William A. Douglass Prize in Europeanist Anthropology from the Society for the Anthropology of Europe of the American Anthropological Association.
Ghodsee also won the 2011 Ethnographic Fiction Prize  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. 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.”
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. 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.
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)."
Kristen R. Ghodsee, Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism and other arguments for economic independence, Nation Books, 2018. ISBN 9781568588902
"Feminism-by-Design: Emerging Capitalisms, Cultural Feminism and Women's Nongovernmental Organizations in Post-Socialist Eastern Europe,"Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Spring 2004 (Vol. 29, No. 3)
"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
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