Phronesis through praxis: Cultivating the habit of a rhetorical disposition in positive deviance action research

Lucia Dura, University of Texas at El Paso


Positive deviance is an asset-based, community-driven, problem-solving approach to social change premised on the idea that in every community there are certain individuals or groups whose uncommon behaviors and strategies enable them to find better solutions to problems than their peers, while having access to the same resources and facing similar or worse challenges ( Positive deviance has been used in over 40 countries to address issues as diverse as productivity in the workplace, infection and disease prevention, education, and child trafficking. This dissertation situates positive deviance within the areas of social change and change studies in the discipline of Rhetoric and Writing Studies. Parting from the notion that praxis begins with applied work, which is informed by theory and exerted again with value added, this project posits a case example of positive deviance as it was applied to the issue of reintegration in Northern Uganda by an international non-governmental organization in 2007 and 2008. Using heuristic reasoning (Lauer & Asher, 1988) as the primary methodology, this project sets forth (1) a postmodern rhetorical analysis to better understand the ways change is mediated (Faber, 2007) rhetorically in the facilitation of positive deviance, and (2) a heuristic theory of positive deviance for action research. The analysis focuses on the elements of power relations, ideology, reality, epistemology, alterity, invention, stasis, and kairos, making explicit previously tacit assumptions about the role epistemic rhetoric plays in positive deviance. Based on this analysis, a heuristic aimed at arriving at a framework of actionable phronesis, or practical wisdom, for the practice of positive deviance as Rhetoric and Writing Studies action research is proposed. This heuristic calls for a habitual rhetorical disposition, which entails critical, recursive, and perceptive practice. As a first step towards more comprehensive studies of how change is mediated within Rhetoric and Writing Studies, the heuristic of rhetorical dispositions is intended to be tested revised, and adapted. The last chapter sets forth multiple uses of positive deviance within Rhetoric and Writing Studies with implications for research, pedagogy, service, and administration.

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Recommended Citation

Dura, Lucia, "Phronesis through praxis: Cultivating the habit of a rhetorical disposition in positive deviance action research" (2011). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI3469329.