Context: Deviance, broadly conceived as individual or collective acts of norm- and rule-breaking, forms an inherent part of all processes of organizing. Recent years have witnessed a growing intere st in the political dimension of deviance as epitomized in processes that disturb, suspend or intervene in existing norms, rules and power relations. Despite the existence of a burgeoning literature on the politics of deviant phenomena such as resistance, the defining features that render these forms of deviance either positive or negative have not been systematically addressed. Objective: Aspiring to advance theorizing on the political dynamic of positive deviance in processes of organizing, this project focuses on how deviance precipitates political possibilities by creating the conditions for re-negotiating identities, practices of organizing and reality at large. Rationale and set-up: Rather than advancing a self-contained theory of the subject matter, three sub-projects are introduced which elaborate how the politics of positive deviance is played out in three specific contexts of organizing:
1. The first sub-project homes in on extreme forms of oppression as exercised in a particular form of total institution (Goffman, 1961), the Holocaust. Based on a thematic reading of Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful, the concept of play (in the sense of ‘acting’) is suggested as a way of understanding possibilities of positive deviance in situations where liberties are extremely limited. Drawing on performance theory to shed light on the dramaturgical dimension of survival, we discuss how the performative enactment of alternative (imagined) realities creates possibilities of discretion and ‘normality’ outside of power’s gaze. Further, we sketch out how play gives rise to an ethics of responsibility based on self-sacrifice.
2. The second sub-project takes issue with a misconception of deviance in a specific theory of public administration called Post-Foucauldian Governmentality studies. The guiding idea of this train of thought is that governmental power constantly fails to accomplish its designated aim as those being governed notoriously refuse to comply with its normative demands. This project puts this logic on its head by claiming that deviance is less a sign of governmental power’s failure but the very nucleus of its success. Based on longitudinal qualitative research conducted in the English third sector, we show that breaches of the official mandate given to practitioners by government often results in effects which are in the best interest of society. Seen in this way, we suggest that governmental norms and deviance must be understood as co-constitutive, and that deviance needs to be seen as a positive phenomenon without which governmental power would be ineffective.
3. The third sub-project casts a new light on the complex ways in which social enterprises respectively reproduce or transcend broader economic structures. Drawing on Henri Lefebvre’s work on rhythms, a rhythmanalysis of three types of social enterprises – i.e. work integration social enterprises, neighborhood recovery initiatives and entrepreneurial squats – is conducted to shed light on the different temporalities, rhythms and speeds in which these organizations engage and which they actively produce. The basic argument being made is that some social enterprises more than others tend to reproduce the foundational demands of economic production by aligning their activities with rhythms, schedules and routines that are subservient to the logic of profit. The findings offer important insights as to the extent to which social enterprises can undo economically codified rhythms that are characteristic of everyday life under capitalism.