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Measuring the Mosaic

Measuring the Mosaic: An Intellectual Biography of John Porter

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 592
  • Book Info
    Measuring the Mosaic
    Book Description:

    Measuring the Mosaicis a comprehensive intellectual biography of John Porter (1921-1979), author ofThe Vertical Mosaic(1965), preeminent Canadian sociologist of his time, and one of Canada's most celebrated scholars.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-9873-4
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-9)

    When John Porter died prematurely in the summer of 1979, he was just fifty-seven years old. Despite his relative youth, he had already spent nearly three decades as a faculty member at Carleton University, studying Canadian society and writing influential pieces about key aspects of the country’s social structure. The era during which he wrote, the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, was a period of continuous and fundamental social change in Canada: rapid population growth; remarkable, if sporadic, economic development; substantial industrialization; ever greater integration of Canada into the orbit of the American economy and its culture; the youth movement; the...

  6. 1 Growing Up in Vancouver and London, 1921–1941
    (pp. 10-20)

    John Arthur Walker Porter was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, on 12 November 1921, the second of three children born to Arthur Porter and Ethel Cuffin. His childhood and teenage years were difficult – marred by poverty and family dissolution – leaving a permanent mark on the quiet, sensitive young man who would become Canada’s premier sociologist. According to family lore, the source of the problems was Arthur.

    Arthur and Ethel had immigrated to Canada as children – Arthur from England, Ethel from Wales.¹ Arthur was born in Brentford, England, in 1898. He was given up for adoption at birth by his mother...

  7. 2 The Army Years, 1941–1946
    (pp. 21-43)

    From 1939 to 1945, Canada was a nation at war. Some 1.1 million men and women out of a population of 11 million served in the country’s Armed Forces and, of those, 42,042 lost their lives.¹ John Porter was lucky; even though he spent over a year in and around the fighting in Sicily and Italy, his only injury was a concussion sustained in a motorcycle accident while doing basic training in Surrey.² However, while he made it through the war physically unscathed, it influenced him deeply. A sensitive and artistic young man, he enlisted reluctantly. He was certain of...

  8. 3 The LSE Years, 1946–1949
    (pp. 44-66)

    The London School of Economics and Political Science sits stoically amid the frenetic bustle of commercial London, close by the west end of Waterloo Bridge.¹ Its location in the jumble of lanes and avenues around Houghton Street makes it a short walk to many of the city’s landmarks: Parliament, Whitehall, the Royal Courts of Justice and, of special importance to students and faculty of the LSE, the British Museum and the rest of the University of London. In the late 1940s, when John Porter studied there, a fortunate conjunction of unique and remarkable circumstances – a cadre of world-famous scholars, a...

  9. 4 Canada and Carleton College, 1939–1963
    (pp. 67-77)

    One of the first places Porter stopped on his trip across Canada was Ottawa. While there, he contacted Paul Fox.¹ Fox had left the LSE in 1948, dissertation unfinished, to assume a position in the Department of Political Science at Ottawa’s tiny Carleton College.² The two friends met for lunch at the Ottawa train station, across Rideau Street from the Chateau Laurier hotel. In the course of their conversation, Fox discovered that Porter was without a job. Carleton’s political science department had lost its only other member and Fox, desperate to find a replacement, offered Porter a position as a...

  10. 5 The Genesis of The Vertical Mosaic, 1949–1958
    (pp. 78-106)

    Porter’s first years in Ottawa were trying. He struggled to establish himself at Carleton but with limited success and satisfaction. Indeed, by the mid-1950s he contemplated leaving academia altogether. Part of the problem was his relationship with Carleton’s second president, Murdoch Maxwell MacOdrum.

    MacOdrum had assumed the presidency when Henry Tory died unexpectedly in the winter term of 1947.¹ MacOdrum’s family, from Marion Bridge, Cape Breton, was religious and conservative – his father had been the moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Canada – and the son embraced the values of his parents. After earning a PhD in...

  11. 6 Crafting a Classic, 1958–1965
    (pp. 107-125)

    A new era began at Carleton in May 1958, when Claude Bissell’s whirlwind stay in Ottawa came to an abrupt and early end and he departed to assume the presidency of the University of Toronto. Once again, James Gibson fulfilled the president’s obligations while the university sought a replacement¹ and, once again, Chancellor C.J. McKenzie played a key role in the search process. One day, while lunching at the Rideau Club, he struck up a conversation with ‘Davey’ Dunton, then chairman of the Board of Governors of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. During the course of the meal, Dunton confided in...

  12. 7 The Vertical Mosaic: Canada as a Flawed Democracy
    (pp. 126-161)

    WhenThe Vertical Mosaiccame out, Porter presented it – and scholars and the media treated it – as if it were the first comprehensive snapshot of Canada’s national structure of class and power. In one sense, that was true. No one had written anything as ambitious. Here was a detailed empirical portrait of long-standing class inequalities, combined with a rich description of the nation’s highly unequal structure of power, all incorporated within a scathing, politically charged critique of the country’s self-congratulatory image of itself as ethnically diverse, middle-class, egalitarian, and democratic.

    Porter was well aware of the centrality to Canada of...

  13. 8 Critical Response to The Vertical Mosaic
    (pp. 162-190)

    So wrote the distinguished American sociologist and pioneer of Canadian sociology, Everett Hughes, a year afterThe Vertical Mosaicappeared.¹ Remarkably, despite its scholarly character and imposing heft,The Vertical Mosaicgenerated a major response in the popular press. Even before it appeared on bookstore shelves in the spring of 1965, it began to draw media attention. As early as 1963 Porter had received enquiries from bothCanadian BusinessandExecutivemagazines about the possibility of serializing the book in anticipation of its imminent release.² He declined these offers, but did benefit from some other high-profile prepublication media exposure.


  14. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  15. 9 Canadian Society and Canadian Sociology in the 1960s and ’70s
    (pp. 191-210)

    The 1960s and ’70s were eventful. Scientists made fundamental advances in nuclear energy, genetics, and computer technology that transformed almost every aspect of daily life. As well, the geopolitical map of the world changed dramatically as the Vietnam War, the Cuban Revolution, the Cultural Revolution in China, ongoing conflict in the Middle East, and struggles of national liberation in the Third World reconfigured political, economic, religious, racial, and ethnic tensions around the globe, leaving a sense of foreboding that political-economic stability was nowhere in sight. Particularly ominous was the escalation of the Cold War, an uneasy standoff between the world’s...

  16. 10 Geneva, Ottawa, and Toronto, 1966–1969
    (pp. 211-232)

    The attention generated byThe Vertical Mosaicbrought numerous opportunities Porter’s way, providing a huge boost to his career. His reputation soon grew to formidable proportions and he came to be regarded as one of Canada’s foremost social scientists. It is interesting, given these developments, that Porter originally had no idea his book would create such a stir. Three years after the book appeared, he answered a letter from American sociologist Wendell Bell at Yale University by confessing that it had ‘been received in Canada in a way which I never foresaw.’¹ This helps to explain a noticeable increase in...

  17. 11 Measuring Educational Opportunity, 1970–1979
    (pp. 233-256)

    Porter came to Carleton under very different circumstances the second time around. In 1949, he had travelled to Canada footloose and unhappy after having irrevocably split with his young wife, leaving their newborn daughter in her care. He had no firm career plan, job, or money. He fell into a teaching position at Carleton entirely by accident, accepting the job with no idea he would find a calling as a university professor. Over the course of the two decades since that fateful lunch meeting with Paul Fox, everything had changed.

    Certainly, Ottawa was different. Its population had increased substantially, and...

  18. 12 Measuring Social Mobility, 1970–1979
    (pp. 257-275)

    One dividend of Porter’s post-Mosaicreputation, burnished even brighter by the MacIver Prize and his election to the Royal Society of Canada, was that he received many invitations to travel and lecture. An especially attractive offer came his way during the ill-fated year in Toronto. That autumn, he received a phone call from Seymour Martin Lipset, representing Harvard University. Lipset wanted to know, on behalf of his colleagues, if Porter would be interested in spending a year in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as the visiting professor of Canadian studies on the Mackenzie King endowment.¹ The invitation was a great honour, of course,...

  19. 13 The Shift into Academic Administration, 1977–1979
    (pp. 276-315)

    In 1977, John Porter made a major career shift away from scholarship into academic administration. The transition was somewhat abrupt. He had held administrative positions at Carleton years earlier – he was department chair from 1953 to 1960 and the director of Division II (the equivalent of an associate dean of social sciences) from 1963 to 1966 – but never gave any indication when he assumed these tasks that he had changed his self-definition.¹ Between 1966 and 1977, he never assumed an administrative role per se, limiting such activities to membership on department, university, provincial, and national planning committees and policy bodies.²...

  20. 14 Marion Porter, John Porter’s Intellectual Partner
    (pp. 316-334)

    As John Porter’s biographer, I first became aware that Marion Porter had played a significant role in her husband’s research efforts when I began to find snippets of her handwriting in the background notes and rough drafts of various chapters ofThe Vertical Mosaic. It appeared that she had drafted paragraphs, pages even, of the rough manuscript. I knew that she had been involved in the writing ofDoes Money Matter?andStations and Callingsbecause she was officially named as a co-author. But I had no idea she had been involved in other projects. As the evidence mounted, I...

  21. 15 Second Thoughts: Ruminations on Social Justice
    (pp. 335-353)

    After the shock and deep disappointment of failing to get the presidency, Porter returned to the sociology department. His colleagues, recognizing the hurt he had experienced, did what they could to ease the transition. Monica Boyd and John Myles held a ‘Welcome Back, John’ party, a nice gesture, well received.¹ As well, for the first while, people spent extra time with him, reintegrating him back into the department and its business.² It didn’t take long; he was quite happy to return to teaching and research, activities he referred to as ‘things too long neglected.’³

    Of course, he had by no...

  22. Afterword: Duty, Service, and Mission
    (pp. 354-408)

    In previous chapters I have written about the scholarly legacy John Porter left for generations of Canadian social scientists – sociologists in particular. Porter pushed Canadian sociology to become more international in orientation and comparative in method, and to use the most sophisticated quantitative methodological and statistical techniques available. In his view, this would allow Canadian sociologists to take part in international scholarly debates and provide high-quality data to inform progressive, humane policy decisions in Canada. In addition to his research legacy, I have also described his contributions as a mentor of graduate students, an administrator at Carleton, and a builder...

  23. Notes
    (pp. 409-538)
  24. Bibliography
    (pp. 539-554)
  25. John Porter: Published Sources
    (pp. 555-560)
  26. Index
    (pp. 561-588)