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.
Bibliographical noteThis work was supported by the AHRC under Grant RG13113-10, 2015-16. The authors are grateful to the research team of ‘The Hero Project’, including Dr Abigail Garrington, Dr Berny Sebe and Dr Sarah Evans, as well as the National Portrait Gallery of Scotland (specifically, an Education Outreach Officer, Robin Baillie) and the Royal Geographical Society.
- political engagement
- Political engagement