The politics of heroes through the prism of popular heroism

Natasha Danilova (Corresponding Author), Ekaterina Kolpinskaya

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In modern day Britain, the discourse of national heroification is routinely utilised by politicians, educationalists, and cultural industry professionals, whilst also being a popular concept to describe deserving ‘do-gooders’ who contribute to British society in a myriad of ways. We argue that although this heroification discourse is enacted as a discursive devise of encouraging politically and morally desirable behaviour, it is dissociated from the largely under-explored facets of contemporary popular heroism. To compensate for this gap, this paper explores public preferences for heroes using survey data representative of British adults. This analysis demonstrates a conceptual stretching in the understanding of heroism, and allows identifying age- and gender-linked dynamics which effect public choices of heroes. In particular, we demonstrate that age above all determines the preference for having a hero, but does not explain preferences for specific hero-types. The focus on gender illustrates that the landscape of popular heroism reproduces a male-dominated bias which exists in the wider political and cultural heroification discourse. Simultaneously, our study shows that if national heroificiation discourse in Britain remains male-centric, the landscape of popular heroism is characterised by a gendered trend towards privatisation of heroes being particularly prominent among women. In the conclusion, this paper argues for a conceptual revision and re-gendering of the national heroification discourse as a step towards both empirically grounded, and age- and gender sensitive politics of heroes and heroines.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)178-200
Number of pages23
JournalBritish Politics
Early online date6 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020


  • heroism
  • age
  • gender
  • political engagement
  • Britain
  • Political engagement
  • Gender
  • Heroism
  • Age
  • RUN
  • MEN


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