Date of Award

Spring 1985

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Although many studies have been conducted in regard to groups or individuals deemed to be negative deviants, there is a relative dearth of theoretical or empirical analysis of positive deviance. This dissertation attempts to theoretically analyze the concept of positive deviance.

The literature related to positive deviance was examined and categorized. Positive deviance was defined as behavior that people label (i.e., publicly evaluate) in a superior sense and behavior that usually results because the behavior departs from that which is considered normal or normative.

In addition, the previously postulated examples of positive deviance were utilized to form a typology of positive deviance. These types of positive deviance are the following: innovative behavior, supra-conforming behavior, altruistic behavior, possessors of innate characteristics, and charismatic behavior. Each type of positive deviance was then discussed in relation to literature from literature in sociology and other disciplines.

A further theoretical issue that was presented was that of the relativity of positive deviance. As is the case with negative deviance, actions or behaviors that are defined as positive deviance vary over time, across societies, and within societies. To demonstrate this point, a group of individuals originally labeled as positive deviance (i.e., Nobel Prize winners in science) were compared with individuals collectively designated to be negative deviants and then later elevated to a positive deviant status.

In addition, the literature (i.e., anomie, cultural support, societal reaction, and conflict) developed in the field of deviance (i.e., negative) was discussed in general and then examined to determine to what extent each could be applicable to positive deviance.

Finally, some future areas of research were suggested. In essence, this dissertation was conducted to attempt to achieve a step toward a theory of positive deviance.