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Positive Deviance

Druann Maria Heckert and Daniel Alex Heckert

Subject Sociology » Deviance and Social Control

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


Positive deviance remains an intriguing concept with potential to foster new areas of research inquiry ( Ben-Yehuda 1990 ). The roots for the idea are not new; in fact, West (2003) maintains that the theoretical roots of positive deviance are contained in the seminal works of Durkheim, Simmel, and Weber. He contends, moreover, that these theorists recognized the synergies in deviance in that both positive and negative deviance occupy a “shared symbolic form.” For example, Weber analyzed charisma and argued that this type of legitimate authority can produce positive and negative deviants. The contested quality of positive deviance reflects the controversial nature of the sociology of deviance itself. Many deviance theorists claim that positive deviance is oxymoronic or a concept that is not viable or possible ( Goode 1991 ; Sagarin 1985 ). Even among its defenders, positive deviance has been variously conceptualized, although most definitions have been developed within the two major perspectives in deviance: normative and reactivist. Guided by a normative perspective, positive deviance has been defined as behaviors or characteristics that exceed normative expectations. Negative deviance, on the other hand, describes that which under-conforms or fails to meet normative expectations. For example, Wilkins (1965) was an early proponent of the normative perspective, advocating the ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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