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The Montreal Massacre

A Story of Membership Categorization Analysis

by Peter Eglin & Stephen Hester

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media studies, violence in society
list price: $42.99
also available: eBook
category: Social Science
published: 2003
  • Short-listed, Harold Adams Innis Prize for best English-language book in the Social Sciences
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The Montreal Massacre: A Story of Membership Categorization Analysis adopts an ethnomethodological viewpoint to analyze how the murder of women by a lone gunman at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal was presented to the public via media publication over a two-week period in 1989. All that the public came to know and understand of the murders, the murderer, and the victims was constituted in the description and commentaries produced by the media. What the murders became, therefore, was an expression of the methods used to describe and evaluate them, and central to these methods was membership category analysis — the human practice of perceiving people, places, and events as “members” of “categories,” and to use these to explain actions.

This is evident in the various versions comprising the overall story of the Massacre: it was a crime; it was a tragedy; it was a horror story. The killer’s story is also based on his own categorial analysis (he said his victims were “feminists”). The media commentators formulated the significance of the murders in categorial terms: it implicated a wider problem, that of violence against women, and thus the reasons for the murders were shown to be categorial matters.

As a contribution to sociology, and as a demonstration of the significance of ethnomethodology for understanding social life, the book reveals the methodical and particularly categorial character of how sense is made of events such as this and how such methodical and categorial resources are central to human interaction.

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Editorial Reviews

''...what is really special about this book is that it tackles a truly dark case without succumbing to sensationalism or to ideological sentimentality. It marks a new high point for criminal-justice case analysis, and is likely to become a classic of its kind.''

— Jeff Coulter

''I found myself quite impressed with the sensitivity the authors showed in exploring the Montreal massacre, and I think they were able to acknowledge the immense feeling associated with this event without compromising their analytical approach.''

— Kristin Atwood, University of Victoria

''This is an extraordinary book. The meticulous analysis of the categories used in stories and of reflections on the Montreal Massacre is both highly original and a model of what ethnomethodology can contribute to the analysis of the media. At the same time, the scope of the study and the range of materials it draws on recover for the reader an event that reverberated widely in Canada and bring alive again a singularly painful passage in the struggle against violence against women.''

— Dorothy Smith

''Despite the authors' focus on media stories and commentary, their book has managed to avoid any of the sensationalism usually associated with the news. The Montreal Massacre is a scholarly work, and an enriching one. Although I was initially uncomfortable with placing this tragedy under the microscope, the authors' sensitive treatment soon dispelled these qualms.''

— Canadian Book Review Annual, 2006
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About the Authors

Peter Eglin

Peter Eglin is a professor of sociology at Wilfrid Laurier University. He is author of Talk and Taxonomy (1980). With Stephen Hester he is co-author of A Sociology of Crime (1992) and co-editor of Culture in Action: Studies in Membership Categorization Analysis (1997). He studies the use of membership categories in practical reasoning, and intellectuals responsibility for grave breaches of human rights, the subject of his forthcoming work, Getting a Life.

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Stephen Hester

Stephen Hester gained his PhD from the University of Kent and has held positions at the University of Manchester, Northumbria University, Queens University, and Wilfrid Laurier University. He is presently reader in sociology at the University of Wales, Bangor. His interests are in ethnomethodology, conversation analysis, crime and deviance, and education. In addition to the titles mentioned above, Hesters previously published books include Deviance in Classrooms and Local Education Order: Ethnomethodological Studies of Knowledge in Action.

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