Kristen Ghodsee

American ethnographer and professor

Kristen Rogheh 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.


  • In addition to the desire for historical exculpation, however, I argue that the current push for commemorations of the victims of communism must be viewed in the context of regional fears of a re-emergent left. In the face of growing economic instability in the Eurozone, as well as massive antiausterity protests on the peripheries of Europe, the “victims of communism” narrative may be linked to a public relations effort to link all leftist political ideals to the horrors of Stalinism. Such a rhetorical move seems all the more potent when discursively combined with the idea that there is a moral equivalence between Jewish victims of the Holocaust and East European victims of Stalinism. This third coming of the German Historikerstreit is related to the precariousness of global capitalism, and perhaps the elite desire to discredit all political ideologies that threaten the primacy of private property and free markets.

Taking Stock of Shock: Social Consequences of the 1989 Revolutions, with Mitchell A. Orenstein (2021)Edit

Taking Stock of Shock: Social Consequences of the 1989 Revolutions. Oxford University Press, 2021. ISBN 978-0197549247
  • Without an accompanying welfare state in which social programs funded by a progressive income tax redistribute from the rich to the poor, capitalism can be a deeply unfair system where a small, well-connected elite captures a majority of the wealth and power, and not necessarily through meritocratic processes.
    • p. 192
  • Many former socialist citizens, as well as political leaders like Vladimir Putin, believe that the chaos and pain of the transition process was deliberately inflicted by the West on its former enemies, as punishment for the East's long defiance of liberal democratic norms and market freedoms.
    • p. 195
  • In the mortality belt of the European former Soviet Union, an aggressive health policy intervention might have prevented tens of thousands of excess deaths, or at least generated a different perception of Western intentions. Instead, Western self-congratulatory triumphalism, the political priority to irreversibly destroy the communist system, and the desire to integrate East European economies into the capitalist world at any cost took precedence.
    • p. 196

Red Hangover: Legacies of Twentieth-Century Communism (2017)Edit

Red Hangover: Legacies of Twentieth-Century Communism. Duke University Press, 2017. ISBN 978-0822369493
  • Since the right will attempt to construe any move toward serious redistributive policies as a return of the great mustachioed Soviet monster, it is essential that those fighting to rein in the excesses of capitalism promote a more realistic view of twentieth century state socialism, which cannot be reduced to Stalinism. Despite the many shortcomings of really existing socialism, the communist ideal (even in its most undemocratic forms) was based on a humanistic, egalitarian vision of the future, one that may have been corrupted and badly implemented in practice, but which is nevertheless opposed to the racist, xenophobic nationalism of the far right (ideals that were quite effectively realized during World War II). Furthermore, we have to accept that really existing democracy, especially as experienced in the former Eastern Bloc countries after 1989, was far from the democratic ideal. Like the example of Americans bringing democracy to the penguins, post-Cold War democratization served as a tool to promote the economic interests of Western elites who stood the most to gain from access to previously inaccessible consumer markets and vast new populations of cheap labor.
    • p. 198
  • Finally, to prevent the ascendance of a resurgent far right, we need to get past our red hangover and recognize the pros and cons of both liberal democracy and state socialism in an effort to promote a system that gives us the best of both. Like the sudden collapse of communism, the days of liberal democracy may be numbered, and the West could soon face its own equivalent of November 9, 1989. Twentieth-century communism failed because the ideals of communism had been betrayed by the leaders who ruled in its name. When the reforms came, they came too late: ordinary people had already given up on the system. Today, democratically elected leaders too often betray the ideals of democracy and those who are calling for reform may also be too late. Citizens across Europe and the United States have lost faith in the system, and global capitalism's final crisis could be just around the corner. Perhaps in this moment of dramatic rupture, we will have the opportunity 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.
    • p. 200

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