Sociology Index

Positive Deviance

Positive Deviants are those whose special attitudes or behavior enable them to function more effectively than others with the same resources and conditions. Positive deviance is something others appreciate and are actions with honorable intentions. Positive deviance differs from related pro-social types of behaviors, such as organizational citizenship, whistle-blowing and corporate social responsibility. David Dodge proposed that scholars are overdue in acknowledging the empirical evidence of what he termed positive deviance. David Dodge's basic argument was that there have always existed those persons and acts that are evaluated as superior because they surpass conventional expectations.

Behavioral Scientist, Gretchen Spreitzer, clinical professor of management and organizations, and Scott Sonenshein define positive deviance as intentional behaviors that significantly depart from the norms of a referent group in honorable ways. Positive deviance focuses on those extreme cases of excellence when organizations and their members break free from the constraints of norms to conduct honorable behaviors. Positive deviance has profound effects on the individuals and organizations that partake and benefit from such activities.

In defining positive deviance, Spreitzer and Sonenshein argue for a normative approach, which implies the evaluation of conduct by a specific body of people whose expectations determine regular or typical behaviors. The researchers say, positively deviant behavior or positive deviance must be something others would extol or commend, if aware of it, and must focus on actions with honorable intentions, independent of outcomes. -Understanding the Impact of Positive Deviance in Work Organizations - Positive deviance may help scholars understand and promote positive behaviors in the workplace. - DeGroat, Bernie. University of Michigan Business School Newsroom.

Positive deviance: a new paradigm for addressing today's problems today
Sternin, Jerry, The Journal of Corporate Citizenship
This paper examines the new development paradigm of 'positive deviance'. In communities throughout the world, there are a few 'deviant' individuals whose uncommon behaviors or practices enable them to outperform or find better solutions to pervasive problems than their neighbours with whom they share the same resource base. Identifying these 'positive deviants' with positive deviance can reveal hidden resources already present in the environment, from which it is possible to devise solutions that are cost-effective, sustainable and internally 'owned and managed'.

Positive deviance among athletes: the implications of overconformity to the sport ethic
Hughes, R., Coakley, J., Sociology Department, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs
Abstract: The purpose of this paper is to develop a working definition of positive deviance and use the definition in an analysis of behavior among athletes. It is argued that much deviance among athletes involves excessive over-conformity to the norms and values embodied in sport itself. When athletes use the 'sport ethic', which emphasizes sacrifice for the game, seeking distinction, taking risks, and challenging limits as an exclusive guide for their behavior, sport and sport participation become especially vulnerable to corruption. Although the sport ethic emphasizes positive norms, the ethic itself becomes the vehicle for transforming behaviors that conform to these positive norms, into deviant behavior that are prohibited and negatively sanctioned within society and within sport organizations themselves. This presents unique problems of social control within sport. The use of performance enhancing drugs in sport is identified as a case in point, and an approach to controlling this form of positive deviance is discussed.

The Positive Deviance Initiative (PDI) is a network organization which is dedicated to amplifying the use of the Positive Deviance (PD) approach to enable communities worldwide to solve seemingly intractable problems which require behavioral and social change. From:
The term Positive Deviance initially appeared in nutrition research literature with the publication of a book entitled Positive Deviance in Nutrition by Tufts University nutrition professor, Marian Zeitlin, in the 1990s, where she compiled a dozen surveys that documented the existence of Positive Deviant children in poor communities who were better nourished than others.
In the early 1990s, Jerry Sternin and his wife, Monique, experimented with Zeitlin's ideas and operationalized the Positive Deviance concept as a tool to promote behavior and social change to organize various Positive Deviance-centered social change interventions around the world.
The Sternins helped to institutionalize Positive Deviance as a social change approach by demonstrating its successful application, first to childhood malnutrition, and then expanded its successful application to a variety of seemingly intractable problems in diverse sectors, such as public health, education, and child protection, among others.

Random Acts of Kindness: A Teaching Tool for Positive Deviance.
Jones, Angela Lewellyn, Teaching Sociology, v26 n3 p179-89 Jul 1998
Abstract: Presents a learning activity designed to illustrate the concept of positive social deviance to introductory sociology students.

Reactions to positive deviance: Social identity and attribution dimensions - Fielding, K. S., Hogg, M. A., Annandale, N., Journal: Group Processes & Intergroup Relations
Abstract: This research examines whether evaluations of positive deviates (i.e. high achieving group members) are influenced by the attributions they make for their performance. We argue that ingroup positive deviates who make group attributions help enhance the ingroup's image and thus attract favorable evaluations.

Applying the Concept of Positive Deviance to Public Health Data: A Tool for Reducing Health Disparities - Walker, Lorraine O; Sterling, Bobbie Sue; Hoke, Mary M; Dearden, Kirk A.
Public Health Nursing, Volume 24, Number 6, November/December 2007.
Abstract: The concept of positive deviance, which highlights uncommon practices that reduce risk in low-resource communities, has been effective in community mobilization and programming to improve health outcomes. The protocol includes assessing whether positive deviance fits the situation, identifying positive deviants, and identifying behaviors associated with positive deviants' healthy outcomes.

Toward the Construct Definition of Positive Deviance
Gretchen M. Spreitzer, Scott Sonenshein, University of Michigan Business School
American Behavioral Scientist, Vol. 47, No. 6, 828-847 (2004)
In this article, the authors develop a definition of positive deviance, a foundational construct in positive organizational scholarship. They offer a normative definition of positive deviance: intentional behaviors that depart from the norms of a referent group in honorable ways. They also develop research propositions that differentiate positive deviance from related prosocial types of behavior, including organizational citizenship, whistle-blowing, corporate social responsibility, and creativity/innovation. Finally, the authors offer some initial ideas on how to operationalize positive deviance.