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" (Dodge 1985:18).
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
(that ought or ought not to occur) by a specific body of people (a referent group) 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. Living in conformity to the sport ethic is likely to set one apart as a 'real
athlete', but it creates a clear-cut vulnerability to several kinds of deviant behavior.
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: positivedeviance.org
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
Zeitlins 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
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. Describes the background to the
lesson, the assignment, student observations during the activity, student reactions to it,
and warnings to instructors considering replicating the assignment.
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. In Experiment 1,
ingroup positive deviates who made group attributions were generally evaluated more
favorably than ingroup positive deviates who made individual attributions. There was also
evidence that the positive deviates' attribution style influenced group and
self-evaluations. Evaluations of outgroup positive deviates were not influenced by their
attribution style. In Experiment 2, an ingroup positive deviate who was successful and
attributed that success to the group was upgraded relative to an ingroup positive deviate
who made individual attributions. Group evaluations were also higher when the positive
deviate made group attributions. This pattern did not emerge when the positive deviate
failed. The results are discussed from a social identity perspective.
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 , pp. 571-576(6)
Abstract: The concept of positive deviance (PD), which highlights uncommon practices that
reduce risk in low-resource communities, has been effective in community
mobilization and programming to improve health outcomes. We present a protocol for
extending the concept to analysis of existing public health data. The protocol includes
assessing whether PD 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. The authors contrast this normative perspective on deviance with
statistical, supra conformity, and reactive perspectives on deviance. They also develop
research propositions that differentiate positive deviance from related prosocial types of
behaviors, including organizational citizenship, whistle-blowing, corporate social
responsibility, and creativity/innovation. Finally, the authors offer some initial ideas
on how to operationalize positive deviance.