Creating the Revolutionary Heroines #phdthesis

Representing revolutionary terrorists as heroes and martyrs was a typical feature of the mythology of the Russian revolutionary underground at the beginning of the 20th century. This mythology described Underground Russia, the world of the revolutionaries, as an ideal country inhabited by ideal people. The purpose of that epos was to represent the revolutionary struggle, and individual revolutionaries in such a way that they would gain sympathy from the wider public and become role models for other revolutionary fighters. Sympathetic representations of women who committed political violence seem to be especially shocking in the context of Russia at the beginning of the 20th century, since female violent behavior contradicted the existing gender order.

Creating the Revolutionary Heroines


In 2018 I defended my PhD thesis Creating the Revolutionary Heroines. The Case of Female Terrorists of the PSR (Russia, Beginning of the 20th century) (Stockholm: Stockholm University, 2017). Employing theoretical perspectives of Critical Discourse Analysis, gender history and intersectionality, my dissertation analyzes the way narratives about the individual life paths of female terrorists of the Party of Socialist Revolutionaries (the PSR), the biggest socialist party in Russia at the beginning of the 20th century, were constructed in their revolutionary auto/biographies.  I demonstrate how the lives of women from different social and ethnic origins, of different ages, with different life paths, who happened to be united only by their participation in the political terrorism of the PSR, were recounted with the help of narratives used in the Russian revolutionary underground.


I presented some findings from Chapter 4. “Awakening” – dedicated to representations of the female terrorists’ way into the revolutionary underground – at the APH conference in Jyväskylä (Finland) in June 2017. Participation in the conference gave me an opportunity to introduce my ideas to international scholars at different stages of their academic careers and receive valuable feedback that helped improve the text of the dissertation.

The research findings demonstrate that the accounts of the lives of female PSR terrorists were constructed with the help of the dominant narrative that was formed as a conversion story. Within the framework of that narrative, the lives of individual women were adapted to the dominant discourse of heroism and martyrdom, and at the same time were contextualized within the dominant discourse on “good” femininity that existed in the Russian society, and even within the discourse on Jews as perpetual “Others” in the Russian empire in case of Jewish women.  Social and ethnic backgrounds as well as individual circumstances of the terrorist women, however, transformed the dominant narrative, and thus created diversity of representations. The discursive practice of writing a revolutionary life accepted by Bolsheviks influenced the discursive practice employed in revolutionary auto/biographies of female terrorists written during the early Soviet period.

About Nadezda Petrusenko


Dr. Nadezda Petrusenko is currently employed as a senior research assistant at the department of economic history, Umeå University (Sweden). She defended her doctoral thesis on representations of female terrorists in pre-revolutionary Russia in 2018 at Stockholm University (Sweden). Her research interests include Russian political history, gender history, historiography, economic history. Petrusenko is the author of more than 20 scholarly works on political history of pre-revolutionary Russia.