NEWS30 November 2010

Semiotician Ginny Valentine dies

UK

UK— Virginia ‘Ginny’ Valentine, widely recognised for her work in introducing semiotics to the UK market research industry back in the 1980s, died last night. She had been ill for some time.

Valentine was nominated for and won numerous awards from the Market Research Society (MRS) during her career, including Best Presentation in 1989, Best Conference Paper in 1995 and Best New Thinking in 2000 and 2001. She was also a fellow of the MRS.

Valentine had focused on the application of semiotic techniques in market research since 1983. In 1988 she set up Semiotic Solutions, a company created to provide semiotics training and advance technical development.

Greg Rowlands, an original Semiotics Solutions team member, told Research: “Ginny was such an incandescent combination of drive, intellect and flamboyance that it’s almost impossible to believe that she’s gone. Semiotics was a challenging sell back in the early 90s, and without Ginny’s determination and sheer chutzpah it would have remained a one-off commercial anomaly. I know how very proud she was to have given so many people a way of enjoying a life in business that had hitherto been inconceivable. So many of us will remember Ginny with an incalculable measure of gratitude and, of course, absolute affection.”

Fellow founding member Malcolm Evans, now of Space Doctors, said: “Ginny Valentine’s passing is a deeply sad loss not just to family and close friends but to the world of consumer insight in UK and globally. Many of the leading names in semiotic and linguistic analysis today learned their trade first with Ginny – and she remained the intellectual leader of the UK community and a formidable force in commercial semiotics internationally until serious illness forced her to step back earlier this year. Ginny’s sharp analytical powers, generosity of spirit, cultural curiosity and unquenchable sense of wonder remained undimmed until the recent final days of her illness. In these times of epic social and cultural change her closest friends and colleagues will be thinking every day for a very long time to come: ‘What would Ginny have made of that?’, ‘If only she could have seen this!’ and ‘Ginny would have been amazed – she would have absolutely loved that’.”

In 2007 she joined Truth, the strategic insight consultancy founded by Andy Dexter, to work as a creative partner. Dexter told Research: “Ginny was one of a handful of genuine research revolutionaries – and as a person, she was one of a kind. She had a rare combination of intellectual rigour, absolute disregard for conventional wisdom, and a great sense of humour. She was a great friend and supporter of Truth – in every sense of the word. It was a pleasure to know her and work with her, and we’ll miss her.”

Speaking in 2007 at the MRS annual conference, Valentine remarked how there was “some serious acknowledgement and admiration for the power and values of semiotics – coupled with an intense frustration at the complexity of the theory that provides the values and the power”.

You can find more of her writings for Research on semiotics here.

@RESEARCH LIVE

5 Comments

9 years ago

Ginny was a great positive force in both research and in life. Her love of her family, and her enthusiasm for new things coupled with her commitment to old friends where what I remember about her most

Like Report

9 years ago

Rob Thomas, who previously worked with Ginny at Semiotic Solutions and now runs his own business, Practical Semitorics, submitted the following: "Snapshots of Ginny: her explaining semiotic theory to the landlord of a north Dublin pub, as we analysed his premises (and twenty more!) as part of a 'location semiotics' project; her bringing together Russian literary theory and The Archers, to explain a point about 'voices' in communications; her big, powerful, intelligent laugh; her nervously playing with her hair before a presentation, followed by her total command of the audience; her calling me 'luvvie', an unusual term in market research circles; her run-ins with technology (laptops, car alarms, mobiles, photocopiers...) and lastly, her passionate belief in the methodology she'd co-created from a lifetime's reading and thinking. "Don’t forget about the Theory!", as she used to say to me, and as I now say to my own semiotics team."

Like Report

9 years ago

I was fortunate to be a client for Ginny's work over many years when I worked in client-side research and marketing roles. Her work was always insightful and challenging and invariably pointed to opportunities. More importantly, in a business world that often overvalues the selling power of consensus, Ginny worked with strong conviction founded on depth of knowlege and careful analysis. Last week, a colleague sent me some findings from a project that Ginny had worked on about 5 years ago. "We should start from here" said my colleague "this is the best thinking there is on the topic". It was and is.

Like Report

9 years ago

Ginny was one of those people who were so intelligent and confident in their abilities that they were also able to be generous and encouraging to others. Ginny was a considerable patron of young talent and that is how I shall remember her.

Like Report

9 years ago

When did I first met Ginny? It was in 1980 (if I remember well) in Brighton, at the MRS conference. My wife, Jackie, showed me that there was a paper about semiotics. In the lift, a few congressmen asked themselves if semiotics was a disease. Two ladies made the presentation and the audience was quite ironical and doubtful. Jackie said to me « you must speak, you must speak ». Thus I stood up and declared that UK researchers were like French ones 10 years before. They should consider this new discipline as a real source of progress and not as a gimmick. This is how Ginny and I naturally became friends: a typically French “coup de gueule”. We didn’t meet often. Less than once a year. But it was always something of a miracle. It was for the pleasure of endless discussions (one of them lasted almost one whole night in her kitchen and I cannot remember if we decided that the world was definitely metonymical or metaphorical). The last time I saw Ginny, such a miracle happened again, it was in her cottage in the country at the end of 2008. We walked with her dog on an immense green under a heavy cloudy sky. We talked about all-important subjects, jumping from Monty to the decline of intellectualism, passing through the destiny of rabbits in a land full of dogs. Then we went into the garden at nightfall to pick some green beans for the dinner. To be with Ginny was like that: getting wings to fly over everything with a perfect balance of heart, creation and intelligence. Even if he had left us, Monty was still there with Ginny. She had kept his studio, a small wood house next to the cottage, exactly as if he would come back in the minute. They were enlightening each other, one big heart for two people hand in hand. Now, I just imagine to see in the sky, a white cloud over a smile next to a tall man with a beret, walking together and never endingly discussing the essential things of … Ooops, I cannot figure out the subject. Oh yes, I will miss meeting Ginny and Monty. But they will remain there, as luminous metaphors in my heart. Pascal Fleury

Like Report