taxonomy of heroism

Collaborative Heroism and You

Help locate the missing Malaysia flight

Published on March 11, 2014 by Dana Klisanin, Ph.D. in Digital Altruism

Last year, after Typhoon Haiyan struck the Phillippines, thousands of individuals supported relief efforts by using satellite imaging to map the devastation. Right now the same Colorado satellite imaging company is asking the public for help analyzing high-resolution images. This is a crowd-sourced attempt to locate the missing Malaysia airline flight, but it is much more than that: It is a chance to participate in a collaborative heroism.  

What's collaborative heroism? 

Luke Barrington, senior manager of Geospatial Big Data for DigitalGlobe explains it this way: “For people who aren’t able to drive a boat through the Pacific Ocean to get to the Malaysian peninsula, or who can’t fly airplanes to look there, this is a way that they can contribute and try to help out."1 

What Mr. Barrington is really saying is that through collaborative action we can take part in the search and rescue—we can do more than be bystanders—we can use our interactive technologies to join the crew.

The age of interconnectivity is transforming our world and with it our worldview. Joseph Campbell, the well-known comparative mythologist, pointed out the important role technology—a product of culture—plays in expanding human consciousness. Interactive technologies have come to define our culture. They are the means through which we read the news, listen to music, watch TV, and play games, and as such they are the matrix in which we are evolving and cultivating new myths. Collaborative heroism is product of this evolution (Klisanin, 2013). As a construct, it helps us see how we can weave online and offline actions together and make greater strides in accomplishing noble goals.

Readers might be surprised to learn that we know far more about space travel than we know about heroism.  Fortunately, research is increasing.The Hero Roundtable is a cross-disciplinary conference on heroism where experts from many fields including psychology, education,philosophysports, storytelling, and the news media, gather to discuss heroism from many perspectives. Heroism is difficult to study because lumping a war hero, a firefighter, and one’s parents into the same category makes for unwieldy operational definition—a scientific necessity.  One way we are tackling this thorny issue is through creating categories of heroism and using different definitions to refer to heroism’s different forms. A taxonomy of heroism, for example, might include trending heroes, tragic heroes, traditional heroes, transforming, and transcendent heroes—and that is just a beginning (Allison & Goethals, 2013; Cecilone & Allison, 2013)2

Collaborative heroism is a form of heroism that enables us to tackle huge challenges together: Today there’s a chance for you to participate. If you’re interested, volunteers are being asked to log onto the Tomnod website.3 


1. Alan White, BuzzFeed:

2. Allison & Goethals,“hero”/