This study offers a comparative analysis of symbolic mechanisms that legitimize hegemonic masculinity in Swedish and Ukrainian society, explored through the example of two historical models of masculinity – Vikings and Cossacks – and their integration into contemporary contexts. These images are analyzed as symbolic tools that have a potential to politically mobilize and reinforce feelings of national belonging and militaristic masculinity. Through analysis of visual imagery and references to Vikings and Cossacks related to commemoration politics, socialization, consumer culture and nationalism, the study illustrates the significance of political, economic and socio-cultural conditions in shaping their contemporary evaluations and symbolic utilization. The national building processes in a newly created Ukrainian state, underpinned by aspirations to restore traditional gender relations, contribute to the glorification of Cossacks as national heroes and their symbolical integration into the mainstream national ideology in Ukraine. In contrast, the dominant evaluations of Vikings in Sweden are more reserved and critical. Vikings represent a questionably heroic image, which is rather marginalized and appropriated by radical national groups. A significant difference between the imagery of Vikings and Cossacks also lies in their potential to construct images of Sweden and Ukraine respectively, from within and from outside the nation. The study demonstrates that the social connotations of Viking and Cossack imagery are complex, contested and in constant flux and that an important mechanism of assuring the hegemony of ideas connoted by this imagery is their continual reiteration and institutional reproduction.
hegemonic masculinity, historical models of masculinity, Vikings, Cossacks, symbolic reproduction, gender imagery, national identity, militaristic masculinity