Measuring the Mosaic: An Intellectual Biography of John Porter

By Todd, Roy | British Journal of Canadian Studies, July 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

Measuring the Mosaic: An Intellectual Biography of John Porter


Todd, Roy, British Journal of Canadian Studies


Rick Helmes-Hayes, Measuring the Mosaic: An Intellectual Biography of John Porter (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010), 592 pp. Cased. $90. ISBN 978-0-8020-9703- 3. Paper. £23. ISBN 978-0-8020-9648-7.

The Vertical Mosaic by John Porter (University of Toronto Press, 1965) is probably the bestknown work of Canadian sociology. According to Rick Helmes-Hayes this single book, through its analysis of social class and power in Canada, 'legitimated sociology in the Canadian scholarly community, changed the basic nature of the discipline ... and set much of Canadian sociology's agenda for the next ten to fifteen years' (p. xi). This 'intellectual biography' of John Porter revolves around The Vertical Mosaic, with four chapters at the core of the book giving an account of the origins of the study and critical reactions to it. Around this central theme, Rick Helmes-Hayes gives a detailed account of John Porter's life and work, with subsidiary themes which cover the development of university education in Canada and changes in sociology throughout the education and career of his subject.

John Porter's early years were spent in Canada and in England. He was born in Vancouver in 1921, and went to school there before moving to London in 1937. Rick Helmes-Hayes writes that this period was 'marred by poverty and family dissolution' (p. 30). After military service in the Canadian Army during the Second World War, followed by studies for university entrance at Regent Street Polytechnic, he gained a place at the London School of Economics. The political milieu of the London School of Economics - particularly the context of Fabianism and New Liberalism - fostered the social commitment and empirical orientation of Porter's work. …

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