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Normalization of Deviance Explained by Diane Vaughan

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Normalization of deviance is explained by Diane Vaughan (1996) in her book, The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, culture, and deviance at NASA. It means that individuals in a group or society become so familiarized with an aberrant behavior that they do not think of it as deviant any more. This kind of complex process happens even if the deviance is considered dangerous. Normally, those who are not included in the group perceive the behavior as deviant. On the contrary, those within the group are unaware of the atypical features of the situation. Vaughan cited the space shuttle Challenger disaster as an example. It led to the loss of 7 crew members because of the failure of the vehicle’s O-ring seal. There were already apparent flaws regarding its design in the early stages of the project. The first time that it was damaged, experts found a way to repair it. However, intermittent failures occurred in the testing stages. Besides the evident danger, the engineers decided that the Challenger was ready to be launched with “acceptable risk”. Then, after it fragmented 73 seconds into its flight, they were completely staggered.
Basing on the aforementioned discussions, both the offender and the organization share the responsibilities. Since the offender is mostly unaware of the gravity of the situation, the organization must take aggressive measures. Hence, stopping the normalization of deviance is quite important in preventing mishaps. Astronaut Mullane (2009) specifically identifies several ways on how to deal with this phenomenon. It is significant to be acquainted with one’s susceptibility to it. Furthermore, planning the work and working the plan must be a religion. It is also valuable to contemplate on one’s instincts and to review past mistakes as well as near-misses.