Books On Deviant Behavior, Moral Panic,
Positive Deviants are those whose special attitudes or behaviors 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
existence 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
"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," Spreitzer. "positive deviance has profound
effects on the individuals and organizations that partake and benefit from such
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 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 behaviours 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' 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
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 behaviour 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 behaviour, sport and sport participation become especially
vulnerable to corruption. Although the sport ethic emphasizes positive norms, the ethic
itself becomes the vehicle for transforming behaviours that conform to these positive
norms, into deviant behaviours 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 behaviour. 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, a visiting scholar at Tufts University, 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 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. 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
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. Analyzing existing datasets from a PD perspective may
aid public health nurses in efforts to reduce health disparities. The effectiveness of our
protocol will be clarified in future research.
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.