Ghodsee's Bulgarian Studies Draw Wide Support
Story posted October 19, 2005
These are heady days for Kristen Ghodsee, assistant professor of gender and women's studies.
A rising international scholar of post-socialist cultural studies (with an emphasis on the Balkans) and transnational feminisms, she is spending part of her sabbatical leave in Washington, D.C., as a fellow at the prestigious Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Her first book, The Red Riviera: Gender, Tourism and Postsocialism on the Black Sea, has just been released by Duke University Press.
Ghodsee recently was selected to receive a highly coveted American Council of Learned Society (ACLS) Fellowship, which supports postdoctoral research in the humanities. She will use this grant to conduct field work in Bulgaria during most of her time away from Bowdoin. She also won support to extend this field work from the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX) and the National Council on Eurasian and Eastern European Research (NCEEER).
And to top it off, she has already been approached by publishers interested in her second book, also a study of Bulgarian women; it is tentatively titled, The Miniskirt or the Veil? Gender, International Aid, and Islamic Revivalism on the Edge of Europe.
"I am really fortunate to have so many incredible opportunities at this point in my career," says Ghodsee, who has been on the Bowdoin faculty since 2002. "I'm so grateful for the support for and interest in my work. The only downside is that I miss teaching and interacting with the Bowdoin students. They really give me a lot of intellectual stimulation."
Students needn't worry: Ghodsee will be back at her teaching post in spring 2007, after spending one more semester of research in Bulgaria.
What is it that keeps drawing Ghodsee to this relatively unstudied region of the world - arguably a "back woods" of Europe?
"I am fascinated by the political and economic changes going on in Eastern Europe since the fall of communism," she says. "Furthermore, Bulgaria is on the edge of Europe and the Middle East, and has a large indigenous population of Muslims. It's an important crossroads where cultures have always mixed and will continue to do so in new and interesting ways for the foreseeable future."
Ghodsee's studies are exemplary of the feminist axiom, "the personal is political." Her examination of the economic transition from communism to capitalism among workers in the Bulgarian tourism industry in The Red Riviera, for instance, is told through the real-life stories of Bulgarian women, whom Ghodsee interviewed during field work from 1999 to 2000.
"It was through these extended conversations with maids, waitresses, cooks, receptionists, and many others who work in Bulgarian tourism that my own observations and analysis came to life," she writes. "In the day-to-day routines were the experiences and outcomes that eventually fleshed out the bare bones of abstract theories of economic transition."
Ghodsee says she chose to focus on the tourism industry, since it has emerged as "one of the key powerhouses of the postsocialist economy," and the majority of its workers are women. Roughly one in five women are employed in tourism.
Contrary to prevailing economic forecasts, Ghodsee found that these women were doing far better than many of their male counterparts, who continue to face high unemployment: "The reason these women did fairly well is that they had education and training they were able to use - foreign languages, regular contact with foreigners, access to hard currency in the form of tips. They had a sense of what capitalism was like because they worked in resorts; other people didn't have that."
For her next book, Ghodsee will turn her attention to women in the Rhodopi region of southern Bulgaria, where she will be doing research with the Muslim population. Although the Muslims are a minoritythere, she believes they are important to study since Bulgaria may be joining the European Union as early as January 2007. When this happens, she says, Bulgaria will be the first new EU member with a large Muslim community that has been a part of the local culture for centuries.
"I am interested in why women are, or are not, attracted to more traditional forms of Islam in post-communist countries," she says. "There are gendered aspects of the importation of 'new' Islamic customs and practices among Bulgarian Muslim communities that I would like to examine."
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