Three questions to start the sociological study of heroism

Despite the understandable and predictable lack of sociological interest in the issues related to heroism, the search for clear and unambiguous conceptual and empirical definitions of the hero in the contemporary society seems to be a relevant sociological task, especially under the current pandemic which made the criteria of heroism interesting for the wider public. The authors briefly outline the main aspects of the traditional scientific interpretations of heroism as presented in the social-cultural narratives worldwide, and proceed to the issues that constitute the field of the sociological studies on heroism. The first research question is not so much a single definition of the hero as types of heroes based on social representations of when and how heroes ‘reveal’ themselves in decisions and actions. The authors rely on the traditional typologies of heroes usually based on the psychological aspects of heroic thinking and behavior to suggest a sociologically relevant typology based on both literature and the Russian public opinion polls. This typology implies answers to the questions of why the society needs heroes and what makes someone a hero in the eyes of the society, and allows to better understand and to more precisely define the false/pseudo/anti-heroism. The second research question is about the sources of images and understanding of heroism, which focuses on the mass media and especially cinema’s potential to represent certain social practices as heroic and to construct heroic images. The third research question is about the possibilities of the empirical sociological study of the types of heroes and their representation in the media (cinema). The authors argue that sociology should use its own methods (in a combination with techniques for studying the audience’s perception of movies) — content analysis and surveys, especially the unfinished sentences technique, and provide some examples of how this can be done, for instance, to compare the social representations of a ‘real hero’ and a ‘movie hero’ among different age groups and generations. The authors conclude with mentioning a new issue associated with heroism, which became evident under the pandemic — changes in the social representations of heroism determined by heroization of healthcare workers due to their selfless fight against the coronavirus epidemic. © I.V. Trotsuk, M.V. Subbotina, 2021.

Российский университет дружбы народов
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  • 1 RUDN University, Miklukho-Maklaya St., 6, Moscow, 117198, Russian Federation
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Cinema; Definition of the hero; Empirical study; False hero; Hero; Mass media; Sociological methods; Survey; Types of heroism
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