This book was the major project that Stephen Hester worked on in the last decade of his life. It was left unfinished when he died in April 2014. Peter Eglin and Dave Francis, long-time friends and colleagues of Stephen's, have prepared this version of the book for online publication. The book was left in an unfinished and uneven state – some chapters were completed while others were quite fragmentary. Eglin and Francis were faced with a decision about how far to re-work these parts of the book. After much consideration, they decided that to engage in substantial 'improvement' of the analyses in these chapters – of the sort that would be required for the book to be commercially published - would go beyond their remit, since this would turn the book into a different animal from the one before you now. Therefore they have opted for a 'minimalist' strategy; attempting to 'tidy up' these chapters while leaving the substance and character of the analyses intact. As regards chapter order, they have gone for a solution that seems to make the best sense of the whole while acknowledging that, had Stephen lived to complete the book, it might well have had a different overall shape.
The book is a major study in Membership Categorization Analysis (MCA), in which this approach is applied to the analysis of talk in an educational setting in which 'descriptions of deviance' play a central role. MCA was a central focus of Stephen Hester's work throughout his career. The data on which the book is based was collected by Stephen back in the 1980's, when he was teaching at the University of Northumbria in the UK. Influenced by Cicourel and Kitsuse's classic The Educational Decision Makers, he obtained permission to sit in on, and to tape record, referral meetings in schools in a nearby Local Education Authority. These are meetings involving teachers and educational psychologists employed by the education authority, in which students presenting behavioural and learning problems in school are discussed with a view to them possibly being 'referred' for additional support by the Education Psychology Service. The talk centres around descriptions of the student both within and outside of the classroom, descriptions which form the basis of assessments of the nature and extent of the student's 'deviance' and which are cast in categorial terms. In the book, Stephen attempts to reveal the ways in which the interactional talk that comprises educational referral meetings is accomplished in specific cases.