Positive Deviance: Using a New Typology to Expand Merton's Anomie Theory

Druann Heckert, Fayetteville State University
Alex Heckert, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

We have synthesized both normative (or objectivist) and reactivist (or subjectivist) conceptualizations of deviance to create a new typology; (1) classic (negative) deviance refers to behaviors that involve underconformity or nonconformity to normative expectations that are negatively evaluated; (2) rate-busting denotes overconformity to normative expectations that is negatively evaluated; (3) criminal worship suggests underconformity or nonconformity that is positvely evaluated; and (4) positive deviance subsumes overconformity that is positvely evaluated. This typology has been utilized to illuminate a potential way that Merton's theory of anomie could be expanded. For Merton, the four potential deviant adaptations to anomie are innovation, ritualism, retreatism, and rebellion. Since Merton did not consider social reactions and their importance in understanding deviance, we propose to analyze social reactions and their significance in understanding his deviance types. As an example, innovation can be negatively evaluated and can be considered deviant in the classic sense; nevertheless, innovation can also be positively evaluated. Merton's other deviant types will be analyzed in this way as well. In essence, our typology will be examined in relation to Merton's seminal typology to demonstrate the potentiality and importance of considering social reactions--and overconformity to normative expectations--when explaining deviance.

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Updated 05/20/2006