Telling the stories of ordinary life under socialism and post-socialism
[T]he people who struggle against what we call totalitarian regimes cannot function with queries and doubts. They, too, need certainties and simple truths to make the multitudes understand, to provoke collective tears.”
-Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, page 254
Kristen R. Ghodsee is a professor of Russian and East European Studies and a member of the Graduate Group in Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. She is an award-winning ethnographer and author specializing in the lived experience of socialism and post-socialism in Eastern Europe. She has written nine books, and her scores of articles and essays have appeared in publications such as Aeon, Dissent, Foreign Affairs, Jacobin, The World Policy Journal, The Washington Post, The Lancet, and The New York Times. Primarily focusing on the Balkans, Ghodsee has spent over two decades examining the impacts neoliberalism on the lives of ordinary men and women. Her later works have been heavily influenced by humanistic anthropology. Ghodsee has crossed genres to produce more intimate narratives and images of the disorienting effects of the collapse of socialism on daily life and to push back at simplistic totalitarian narratives about the state socialist past.
Ghodsee earned her Ph.D. at UC Berkeley and taught for fifteen years at Bowdoin College before becoming a professor of Russian and East European Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Her first book was The Red Riviera: Gender, Tourism and Postsocialism on the Black Sea (Duke University Press, 2005). Her second book was Muslim Lives in Eastern Europe: Gender, Ethnicity and the Transformation of Islam in Postsocialist Bulgaria (Princeton University Press 2010). Muslim Lives won four book awards: the 2010 Barbara Heldt Book Prize, the 2011 John D. Bell Book Prize, the 2011 Harvard Davis Center Book Prize, and the 2011 William Douglass Prize for Best Book in Europeanist Anthropology. She is also the author of Lost in Transition: Ethnographies of Everyday Life After Communism (Duke University Press, 2011), which won the 2011 Ethnographic Fiction Prize from the Society for Humanistic Anthropology (for the short story “Tito Trivia”), and the co-author of Professor Mommy: Finding Work/Family Balance in Academia.
Her fifth book, The Left Side of History: World War II and the Unfulfilled Promise of Communism in Eastern Europe (Duke University Press, 2015), won the Honorable Mention for the 2015 Heldt Prize for the Best Book in Slavic/Eastern European/Eurasian Women’s Studies. From Notes to Narrative: Writing Ethnographies that Everyone Can Read is her sixth book, published with the University of Chicago Press in 2016. Red Hangover: Legacies of 20th Century Communism is a collection of essays and short stories published in the fall of 2017, and Second World, Second Sex: Socialist Women’s Activism and Global Solidarity during the Cold War was published in 2019.
Her research has been supported by foundations such as: the National Science Foundation (NSF), Fulbright Foundation, the National Council on Eurasian and East European Research (NCEEER), the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX), and the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS).
Kristen Ghodsee has also won fellowships at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.; the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany; and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. Ghodsee was also a Member in the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. In the 2014-2015 academic year, Ghodsee was a fellow at the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS). In 2015-2016, she was a visiting senior fellow at the Imre Kertész Kolleg in Jena, Germany, and at the Aleksanteri Institute at the University of Helsinki.
She currently serves as the president of the Association of Members of the Institute for Advanced Study (AMIAS), and is a former president of the Society for Humanistic Anthropology (SHA).
In 2012, Ghodsee was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship for her work in anthropology and cultural studies.