The Red Riviera: Gender, Tourism and Postsocialism on the Black Sea

This compelling ethnography of women working in Bulgaria’s popular sea and ski resorts challenges the idea that women have consistently fared worse than men in Eastern Europe’s transition from socialism to a market economy. For decades western European tourists have flocked to Bulgaria’s beautiful beaches and mountains; tourism is today one of the few successful—and expanding—sectors of the country’s economy. Even at the highest levels of management, employment in the tourism industry has long been dominated by women. Kristen Ghodsee explains why this is and how women working in the industry have successfully negotiated their way through Bulgaria’s capitalist transformation while the fortunes of most of the population have plummeted. She highlights how, prior to 1989, the communist planners sought to create full employment for all at the same time that they steered women into the service sector. The women given jobs in tourism obtained higher educations, foreign language skills, and experiences working with Westerners, all of which positioned them to take advantage of the institutional changes eventually brought about by privatization.

Interspersed throughout The Red Riviera are vivid examinations of the lives of Bulgarian women, including a waitress, a tour operator, a chef, a maid, a receptionist, and a travel agent. Through these women’s stories, Ghodsee describes their employment prior to 1989 and after. She considers the postsocialist forces that have shaped the tourist industry over the past fifteen years: the emergence of a new democratic state, the small but increasing interest of foreign investors and transnational corporations, and the proliferation of ngos. Ghodsee suggests that many of the NGOs, by insisting that Bulgarian women are necessarily disenfranchised, ignore their significant professional successes.


"[A]n engaging and approachable ethnography of post-socialist Bulgaria. . . . Admittedly, chapter 3 . . . was my favorite for its sheer freshness of information and perspective. . . . Under its serious condsideration of economic transition and women's lives, The Red Riviera is also the raciest ethnography of Eastern Europe yet."Jennifer Cash, Soyuz: The Research Network for Postcolonial Studies

“[A]n excellent ethnography…. This well-written, vivid account of women in postsocialist Bulgaria will be compelling for anthropologists and scholars from related disciplines interested in women/gender, tourism, and/or postsocialism as well as feminism, development, and NGOs.”—Christine Suck, Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

“This engaging and compelling volume is of interest to women’s studies scholars, but also political scientists, sociologists and anthropologists interested in Eastern Europe. Its clear style makes it an accessible reading for students at all levels.”—Lavinia Stan, Women’s Studies International Forum

“Ms. Ghodsee brings a sharp eye to post-Communist change.” Nina C. Ayoub, The Chronicle of Higher Education

“Overall, Red Riviera is a readable book with its vivid descriptions of people and places. The ‘small histories’ draw the reader in, and to the extent that the book uses specialized theories or concepts, they are explained in an understandable way.” Barbara A. Cellarius, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

“The Red Riviera is not a depressing book, even if it has been necessary to count the costs of a transition that many observers now believe was inevitable. It is basically an ethnography for our times, times when systems are put to the test and many people live in the midst of uncertainty. This does not only happen in former socialist states.” Oriol Pi-Sunyer, Anthropology of East Europe Review

“Overall The Red Riviera is a very appealing book. Its theoretical position is clearly explained and its use of personal narrative is effective. . . . The book will appeal to those interested in tourism, labor, gender, and postsocialism, and because it is so accessibly written, it will also work well for undergraduate classes.” Julie Hartley-Moore, American Anthropologist

“In her book The Red Riviera Kristin Ghodsee accomplishes the impossible; she makes a relatively dry academic subject—occupational segregation in post-Communist Bulgaria—come to life. She expertly weaves ethnography, feminist theory, sociology, and economic data with personal stories about women in Bulgarian tourism industry into a fascinating explanation for their post-Socialist success.”Lisa Giddings, Feminist Economics

“The work is both easy and enjoyable to read. . . . [It] presents an interesting argument and is a valuable contribution to postsocialist literature on Bulgaria and tourism.” Deema Kaneef, Slavic Review

“By contrasting the successful women of the tourist industry to the fallen male heroes of communism (its industrial workers), Ghodsee introduces readers to the equally complex transition in gendered expectations, options, and aspirations that has accompanied rapid economic change.”Donna R. Gabaccia, Journal of Women’s History

“Ghodsee offers a compelling and beautifully-crafted ethnographic study of women and the Bulgarian tourism industry. . . . Whether The Red Riviera captures a moment in time or (we hope) documents women's ongoing and future success in the Bulgarian tourism industry, we are fortunate that the tale has been told by Kristen Ghodsee, an exceptionally insightful scholar and gifted storyteller.”Sarah Drue Phillips, Canadian Slavonic Papers

“Whether the reason for reading this book comes from an interest in Bulgarian tourism, tourism employment, gender and women’s studies or post-socialist transformation, it makes a compelling read and demonstrates an effective use of ethnographic research.”
Adele Ladkin, Tourism Geographies

The Red Riviera is noteworthy for its focus on women’s roles and activities in global tourism as well as for its insights into the transition from a state-controlled to a capitalist tourism economy.”Colleen Ballerino Cohen, Current Anthropology

“[A]n insightful case study of the global labour market. . . .”Catherine Baker, Slovo

"The Red Riviera is pleasant to read, which would serve well in classrooms. It could be used to ignite further discussions about the consequences of the expansion of neoliberal capitalism for social inequalities on the peripheries."Eva Fodor, American Journal of Sociology

The Red Riviera is an absorbing, very well-written book which explores the social impact of transition in Bulgaria by focusing on women’s employment in holiday resorts.”Anne White, Slavonic and East European Review


Read Excerpt: Introduction

Watch interview: Interview with George Liston Seay:

Listen to a book talk for The Red Riviera at UCLA