Jean Widmer, professor of sociology of communication and media at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland), died of cancer on February 13, 2007. He was sixty years old.
Passionate about teaching and research, Jean devoted himself wholeheartedly to both with remarkable generosity, intelligence and erudition. He also worked closely with Swiss university institutions to ensure the development of a sociology of communication deeply rooted in the tradition of human sciences. But above all, he was a warm-hearted man who formed strong bonds built on basic human kindness with his students, research partners, colleagues and friends.
He broke new ground in his field in 1980 with a doctoral thesis on the philosophical and linguistic foundations of the ethnomethodological perspective on language. The following year, postdoctoral work took Jean to two US ethnomethodological centers: Boston University and the University of California-Santa Barbara. After his return to Europe, he worked with teams of linguists and sociologists at research institutes in Paris, Bologna and Konstanz, and in 1982 began his long career teaching at the University of Fribourg. Over the years, driven by his love of knowledge and sharing, he would weave a dense network of intellectual exchanges that transcended national borders and academic disciplines.
In his work, Jean combined the ethnomethodological perspective with contemporary semiotics studies - in particular Eliseo Verón¹s enunciative analysis. His relentless pursuit of knowledge gave birth to innumerable other lines of thought drawn from philosophy, logic, esthetics and politics. Developing a truly original approach, he dealt with topics never before treated in the ethnomethodological corpus, such as public debates on drugs, multilingualism and the 'Nazi gold' affair. Jean refuted any micro-macro distinction, seeing the detailed analysis of discourse as a necessary step toward the identification of collective phenomena such as national identity or collective memory. With his special gift for discussion, he was able to guide others to an understanding of always novel and sometimes disconcerting ideas, such as how some obscure medieval theological controversy related to the most contemporary issues. Young researchers from the University of Fribourg, inspired by his innovative spirit, are now continuing the journey on the trails he blazed.
Those who had the privilege to study under or work with Jean Widmer will always remember his profound humanity and his commitment to the social sciences, two interconnected and lasting hallmarks of his life and work. His exceptional presence will be sorely missed by us all.
Alain Bovet, Philippe Gonzalez and Esther González
Département des sciences de la société, Université de Fribourg, Suisse http://www.unifr.ch/sociomedia/
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