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Constructing Heroism in the Time of Covid

Amir Marvasti (Penn State University, USA)
Travis Saylor (Penn State University, USA)

The Emerald Handbook of the Sociology of Emotions for a Post-Pandemic World

ISBN: 978-1-80382-324-9, eISBN: 978-1-80382-323-2

Publication date: 14 April 2023


In this chapter, we examine how the concept of heroism was defined and used during the Covid pandemic in 2020, particularly in connection with the nursing profession. We begin with a sociological examination of heroism and courage. Using textual data from US newspapers, we then compare current constructions of nurses as heroes with views of them during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. The analysis will show that during the earlier pandemic nurses were seen as essential health workers who were in great demand, but there was little reference to them being heroic. However, with Covid, nurses were often presented in the media as heroes. This was largely done by transposing the ‘emotion codes’ (Loseke, 2009) of warfare on the Covid crisis. Emotion codes like ‘fighting the enemy at home’, ‘sacrifice’, ‘bravery’ and ‘service to the country’ were used rhetorically to construct the administration of medical care in the context of a pandemic as inherently courageous and heroic. We end by arguing that the expansion of the concepts of heroism and courage, especially in the context of a profession dominated by women, offers new possibilities for a less masculine orientation toward courage and heroism.



Marvasti, A. and Saylor, T. (2023), "Constructing Heroism in the Time of Covid", Ward, P.R. and Foley, K. (Ed.) The Emerald Handbook of the Sociology of Emotions for a Post-Pandemic World, Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 177-196.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2023 Amir Marvasti and Travis Saylor. Published under exclusive licence by Emerald Publishing Limited