Normalization Of Deviance

Dianne Vaughn developed a theory of the normalization of deviance finding people confronted with deviant behavior in a work setting will adapt to this deviance and it will become the norm. When people are constantly exposed to deviance in the organizational environment acting illegally no longer seems like breaking the law. White collar crime can emerge in the organizational environment especially if the deviant behavior is the result of the leadership or the organizational culture. Enron is a perfect example of the normalization of deviance in the organizational environment.

The Enron corporation scandal involves many people in the organization being involved with the deviant behavior. The culture of deviance merged from the bad behavior of the upper management and unethical business practices that became the norm. When the management and the members of the organization under their authority where able to get away with their fraudulent behavior this deviant behavior became normalized. According to Vaughn (1996) members of the organization become so much accustomed to a deviant behavior that they don’t consider the behavior to be deviant. The white collar crimes committed at Enron left behind many victims but were the results of a shared culture that developed from the bad behavior of the leadership.

The Enron scandal is not the only example of the normalization of deviance that can be found in the organizational environment. In her book Vaughn discusses the normalization of deviance that lead to the Challenger tragedy. The space shuttle the challenger exploded shortly after takeoff due to defective o-rings gaskets. The defective O-ring gaskets were located in one of the solid rocket boosters (Boe, 2013). Even though engineers from NASA in charge of designing and building the space shuttle knew about this defect the problem was never corrected and despite poor performance reports concerning the o-ring gasket they were not removed from the design.

The engineers on the design team were unwilling to risk further delays in the launch of the Challenger so the defective o-rings gaskets were used and innocent astronauts and a school teacher died in the explosion. The fact that every member of the design team was aware of the flaw and the potential risks this would pose to the passengers but none choose to speak up and warn NASA officials of the risk (Vaughn, 1996). As a whole everyone in the NASA organization attempted to cover-up the defective part in order to lay the blame elsewhere. Once again the normalization of deviance led to bad behavior from more than one member of the organization.

The leadership is usually to blame when an organization develops a culture involving deviant behavior that becomes acceptable to everyone in the organization. The Enron scandal was the result of an entire organization willing to engage in acts of fraud to meet company goals while in the case of the Challenger a whole team of engineers and members of the leadership at NASA where willing to cover-up a defective part despite the risk to astronauts and teacher. Normalization of deviance occurs when acting bad becomes the norm in an organization.



Boe, R. (2013). The Normalization of Deviance (If It Can Happen to NASA, It Can Happen to

You). Retrieved August 11, 2014 from

Vaughan D. (1996). The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture and Deviance

at NASA. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press