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21st Century Heroism Movement

The creation of heroes and villains has been one of the most instrumental strategies for generating meaning, solidarity and momentum in social movements (Jasper, 1998). Heroism has certainly not been classified as a movement per se in the past. There have been some interesting developments, however, over the past decade with a flurry of wide ranging research on heroism and other positive behaviours, resulting in the advent of the new field of “heroism science” (Allison, Goethals & Kramer, in preparation). Researchers across a number of disciplines are looking at heroism from new perspectives, not just in the humanities and fiction as has been done traditionally for centuries, but in the social sciences and sciences, from psychology, to evolution, neuroscience, business, and ethics, to name a few. But most importantly, this resurgence extends beyond academia, with actors specifically galvanising to promote awareness of the phenomenon and its use as a tool for enhanced well-being across the board. World-renowned psychologist Dr. Philip Zimbardo’s – conductor of the famous Stanford Prison experiment in the 1970s – aim to promote the “New Heroism” especially in relation to group dynamics (and whistleblowing for example) is at the forefront of these efforts (Zimbardo & Ellsberg, 2013).

This arguably seminal historical period is evidenced in the momentum building by heroic mobilisers across wide facets of society – from academics, to business leaders, educators, artists and so forth – in what can be dubbed an emerging grass-roots ‘21st century multi-disciplinary heroism movement’. These various parts of the movement are joined in their common goal of instilling and bringing to the forefront of social consciousness the notion of the “banality” (Franco & Zimbardo, 2006) of the phenomenon or everyday heroism. The movement comprises two distinct, yet inter-related and often overlapping communities: the heroism research and heroism promotion and education communities.

This movement also marks the onset of what can be dubbed a wave of ‘digital heroism’ or the infiltration of heroic narratives in the internet and blogosphere – these are forming the beginning stages of online perspectives of heroism and, more significantly, the historiography of the heroism movement, and heroism in time more broadly. The blogging and social mediascape of contemporary heroism, though still in its infant stages, is a key trend which is providing not only an interactive and creative space for both the lay and intellectual engagement with the concept of heroism, but a space for heroic mobilisers to communicate research and community developments in real-time, share ideas, collaborate, and generate momentum for this 21st century movement. The advent of this splinter in the study of heroism into the universe of mobile media and the internet enhances our embodied engagement with the experience of heroism as active participants in its consumption and reading, and contributors to its knowledge-making process through blogs, social media and other locative, social and mobile platforms.

Olivia Efthimiou, 28 March 2015


Allison, S. T., Goethals, G. R., & Kramer, R. M. (Eds.) (in preparation). Handbook of heroism and heroic leadership. New York: Routledge.

Efthimiou, O. (in preparation). Understanding Heroism: Transdisciplinary Perspectives. PhD Thesis, School of Arts, Murdoch Univesity, Perth, Western Australia.

Franco, Z., & Zimbardo, P. (2006). The Banality of Heroism. Greater Good, 3(2), 30-35.

Jasper, James M. (1998). The Emotions of Protest: Affective and Reactive Emotions In and Around Social Movements Sociological Forum, 13(3 Sep.), 397-424.

Zimbardo, Philip and Daniel Ellsberg. (2013). Psychology and the New Heroism. DVD. http://www.thepromiseofgrouppsychotherapy.com/psychologyandthenewheroism.html


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