The Association for Qualitative Research
The Hub of Qualitative Thinking

Obituary: Virginia Valentine

Ginny Valentine friend, colleague, teacher, pioneer, provocateur, performer and archetypical Jewish mother died peacefully on 30th November 2010 after a long illness surrounded by her loving family.

Ginny first barged into my life in the late 70s in the form of a "creative" sent to observe my group discussions in the North of England. The client, noting my strong South African accent and recent immigrant status, thought that I might have difficulty in understanding "Mrs. Manchester" as he put it. So Ginny soon began to inform me about the cultural habits of Northern women and by the time we got back to London two days later, we were so bonded that we planned to start an all women advertising agency. Remember, it was the late 70s!

In the mid 80s Ginny joined The Research Business International where we formed Trigger — her first effort, with willing acolytes to carry out her experiments, to apply the principles of semiotics to qualitative research through the use of innovative and deconstructed stimulus material. This form of stimulus material is widely used today, especially for early strategy development projects.

Like a prizefighter, Ginny went into battle in the late 80s and early 90s to integrate the complex theories of Barthes (cultural meanings and codes), Propp (structure of narrative) and Claude Levi-Strauss (cultural contradictions and myth) into a body of knowledge and set of tools that could be used by those involved in marketing, communications and research. Thus was born modern commercial semiotics and her company, Semiotic Solutions.

Ginny was a one-off brand phenomenon combining two oppositional elements of her personality: an awe-inspiring intellect with an ability to connect with people all over the world through warmth and humour.

Here is a selection of adjectives (provided by a qualitative sample of ten) that describe Ginny's formidable brand qualities — her capabilities followed by her personality: Best paper, best new thinking, best presentation, many awards, commercial semiotics, semiotic techniques, rigorous analysis, analytical acumen, cultural and symbolic insights, tools of application, International, reputation, leader, legendary, research revolutionary, trainer, intellect, emergent codes, paradigm and the quadrant model. Extraordinary, funny, energetic, determined, warm, generous, articulate, affectionate, catalytic, irrepressible, voracious, clever, challenging, observant, shrewd, refreshing, sparkling, brainy, fierce, courageous, passionate, naughty, nurturing, tenacious, enlightened, honest, life-loving, provocative, impish, stylish, beaming, dramatic, loving, maternal and gifted.

All of this wrapped up in one not very tall person with a mass of wonderful white hair and an irrepressible giggle about the absurdities of the commercial world in which we have to make our living.


Wendy Gordon
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