Revisiting Pro-Social Rule-Breaking: Suggestions for Improvements


  • T.N.S. De Peiris University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Sri Lanka
  • K.A.S.P. Kaluarachchi University of Colombo, Sri Lanka


The existing literature on the concept of deviant behaviour in Management and Organizational Studies includes two streams of research on deviant behaviour, which consider both positive and negative consequences. Under positive deviant behaviour, Pro-Social Rule-Breaking (PSRB) is considered as an important concept, which addresses the motives, behaviour, and consequences of positive deviant behaviour in the organisational context. This paper intends to examine the construction of PSRB within the existing literature to identify its strengths and limitations. Further, if gaps are available in the existing notion of the concept, the paper intends to propose constructs to be incorporated in the re-conceptualisation. With the review of the literature it was found that PSRB falls short in explaining the motive(s) of positive deviant behaviour linked with the ‘self’ by emphasising the pro-social motive of rule-breaking which is linked to a concern for the ‘other’. It also gives prominence to breaking formal rules by ignoring deviance from informal norms. Moreover, the emphasis of the existing literature on the construction of PSRB is mainly on explaining the impact of organization-specific constructs related to deviant behaviour, with less consideration paid to constructs in the extra-organizational context. Hence, in order to overcome the limitations of the concept, constructs considered in the literature were analysed with a view to re-conceptualising PSRB with suitable sub-constructs. Consequently, the paper proposes to incorporate discourses, norms, and identity work in re-conceptualising the construction of PSRB of organizational actors. This re-conceptualisation will facilitate understanding the self’s and the other’s motives, the breaking of formal as well as informal rules/norms, and organizational as well as extra-organizational motives in the construction of PSRB. Hence, the proposed sub-constructs go beyond a surface-level analysis by overcoming the limitations of the existing notion of the construction of PSRB. The proposed re-consideration broadens the understanding of PSRB while enabling practitioners to manage positive deviant behaviour desirably in the organizational context.

Keywords: Deviant Behaviour, Discourses, Identity Work, Norms, Pro-Social Rule-Breaking