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  • Diane Vaughan's theory of the normalisation of deviance

    • USA
    • Reports and articles
    • Pre-existing
    • Original author
    • No
    • Diane Vaughan
    • Everyone


    Diane Vaughan is an American sociologist who devoted most of her time on topics such as 'deviance in organisations'.

    One of Vaughan's theories regarding misconduct within large organisations is the normalisation of deviance. Here, she uses healthcare to explain how harmful behaviours can become normalised and offers up solutions. 


    Social normalisation of deviance means that people within the organisation become so much accustomed to a deviant behaviour that they don’t consider it as deviant, despite the fact they exceed their own rules for the elementary safety.

    People grow more accustomed to the deviant behaviour the more it occurs . To people outside of the organisation, the activities seem deviant; however, people within the organisation do not recognise the deviance because it is seen as a normal occurrence. In hindsight, people within the organisation realise that their seemingly normal behaviour was deviant.

    Diane Vaughan uses healthcare to illustrate  why deviance is normalised in companies. She gives four major reasons why it happens:

    • "The rules are stupid and inefficient." System operators will often invent shortcuts or workarounds when the rule, regulation, or standard seems irrational or inefficient.
    • Knowledge is imperfect and uneven. System operators might not know that a particular rule or standard exists; or, they might have been taught a system deviation without realising it.
    • "I’m breaking the rule for the good of my patient!" This justification for rule deviation is where the rule or standard is perceived as counterproductive.
    • Workers are afraid to speak up. The likelihood that rule violations will become normalised  increases if those who witness them refuse to intervene. Yet, studies show that people feel it is difficult or impossible to speak up. 


    Vaughan offers the following suggestions for helping to prevent deviant behaviours from becoming normalised:

    • Education is the best solution for the normalisation of deviance. Diane Vaughn states, "the ignorance of what is going on is organisational and prevents any attempt to stop the unfolding harm." Being clear about standards and rewarding whistleblowers is part of the education that should take place. A company must be transparent about their standards and consequences of not meeting them.
    • Also, creating a culture that is less individualistic and more team-based is helpful to stop the normalisation of deviance. Each person should be looking out for the company and team as a whole. If it were more team-based, each person would feel like they were letting their colleagues down if they were to break the rules.
    • A top-down approach is very important. If the employees see executives breaking rules, they will feel it is normal in the company's culture.
    • Normalisation of deviance is easier to prevent than to correct. Companies must make sure they take the correct steps to prevent it.
    Diane Vaughan's theory of the normalisation of deviance https://en.m.wikibooks.org/wiki/Professionalism/Diane_Vaughan_and_the_normalization_of_deviance
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