Remembering Sherri Cavan

Sherri Cavan, Professor Emeritus at the San Francisco State University and co-director of the Erving Goffman Archives, died on February 20, 2016.  This page is created by Sherri’s friends and colleagues who pay tribute to her as an outstanding ethnographer, gifted artist, and remarkable human being.  Cavan’s Interview about her Berkeley years, teachers, and friends is posted the Goffman Archives. Selected correspondence between Sherri Cavan and Dmitri Shalin bearing on the inception of EGA can be found in the Goffman Archives.

[Posted 2.29.16]

Greetings Everybody:

This note bears grievous news about the death of Sherri Cavan.  I just got a word from Kathy Charmaz that Sherri passed away on February 20, 2016.  The cause is metastatic esophageal cancer diagnosed two months ago.  She chose not to have a treatment, relying on hospice instead.

Last time I saw Sherri some two years ago in San Francisco she was sharp, full of energy and good humor.  Sherri was an accomplished sociologist, a gifted sculptor, and great supporter of the Goffman Archives.  I will miss her greatly.

Here is the link to Sherri Cavan’s interview about her Berkeley years and friends,

Take good care of yourself,


Dmitri N. Shalin
Professor and Director
UNLV Center for Democratic Culture

Tel.:   702.895.0259
Fax:   702.895.4800

I am very sorry to hear this – Sherri was one of my first friends in the Goffman circle and was always full of life and conversation. She hedged her bets in the big world, wishing to stay in the Bay area......innovative, sharp funny and a very very keen ethnographer. I learned a lot from her as I tried to be an ethnographer......I have become more practiced in “bar behavior” since the old days! I'll miss her. 


Peter K. Manning 
Elmer V.H. and Eileen M Brooks Professor of Criminal Justice and Criminology
Churchill Hall 
Northeastern University 
360 Huntington Ave. 
Boston MA 02115 USA
ph 617 373 7748
Fax 617 373 8998

So sorry to hear this. Sherri was a wonderfully independent, refreshing and spirited person and also a gentle soul with a fine sociological sensitivity. I first encountered her in a methods or stats class at UCLA taught by Wendy Bell! Her personae at that time was of a serious scholar and beatnik, and as a fraternity man slowly being sucked up into the vortex of the 60s, I found her fascinating and a little intimidating – both the seriousness re scholarship and the temptations and shoals of the counter culture. She helped me appreciate the logic of inquiry, even though I was in a method she did not pursue. I was then pleased and surprised to see her as a graduate student in Berkeley several years after I arrived in 1960. I think she may have gotten an ma from UCLA and UCLA was a feeder school for Berkeley. We stayed in periodic contact over the years up to the EGA. At any event it is a strange aging experience but one I am increasingly getting used to, to find the obits section of Footnotes containing more names that I knew than the current crop of busy people in the other news. alas. go for the gusto, be in the moment and enjoy!


Gary Marx
Professor Emeritus
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

We are all saddened by our loss of Sherri Cavan. Hanging out with Sherri was always an adventure for me. I have wonderful memories of what became a “dorm room” at an ASA meeting when Sherri, Jackie Wiseman, Lois De Fleur and I shared a large room with several roll-away beds. Lois ordered us all a breakfast and I think that we all thought of ourselves as having returned to undergraduate life (and we tried to act as if we had). But my first meeting with Sherri goes back to when I was a graduate student.  It was the days in which the abbreviated shirt for women was very popular. I met Goffman one evening and the next day he stood next to me in the registration area. He declared that I shouldn’t be wearing such a shirt. I happened to see a woman standing a few feet from us who was wearing one too. As I looked toward her, Goffman said to me, “She’s a Professor.” It was Sherri. 


Ruth Horowitz
Department of Sociology
New York University
269 Mercer st
New York, NY 10003

Sherri Cavan was an outstanding sociologist and a very good friend and colleague. May she rest in peace and attain the stature befitting her status.


David Matza

Professor Emeritus
Department of Sociology
University of Caliafornia Berkeley

I am so sorry to hear of Sheri's death. I just went to her "page" to see how someone smart and witty would do one, as I am trying to do one, too.  Good Job, Sheri! Of course. So, I say "hi" to you in cyberspace.

Laurel Richardson
Prof Emeritus
The Ohio State University

During the eflorescence of the Aquarian Age, Sherri summarized her field observations:  “No, not your ‘your own thing,’ my ‘your own thing.’”
Russ Ellis

Professor Emeritus
Deptment of Architecture
Vice Chancellor, Emeritus,
University of Caliafornia Berkeley

Sherri was one of a handfull of teachers in my educational career who vividly brought theory/subject matter to life.  She pondered not long ago, whether any of her salient points had been retained by students.  Thirty years later, I for one can say absolutely, yes!  I remember as well her “fat cat” jacket (personally decorated of course), the click of her high heeled boots in tandem with Louie the bull dog’s nails down the hall of SF State.

Sherri applied both her humor and human insight to her art, often reflecting our dynamic political situation.

I miss long walks and talks in this city which she loved so much.

A Pisces, the sea was magnetic for her

When a sailor goes to sea...
Time and tide will set him free...
Sea and sky will ease his heart...
Every sailor has a chart...

Noel Coward, Sail Away

Lee Anna Kelly

Lynne Spreen
How Terribly Strange to be Seventy
V. Putin by Sculptor Sherry Cavan

After a career as a social science professor, Sherri Cavan became a sculptor post-retirement. Her Vladimir Putin trio above was meant to illustrate three kinds of power – the Fool, who gains power through his antics; the Predator, obvious; and the Beauty Queen, who seduces.

Sherri and I met last March on a cruise ship. She was doing Tai Chi, alone on the darkened dance floor on Deck 14. Unbeknownst to her, I was lurking in a corner of the bar, tapping away on my laptop. When she finished, I introduced myself and asked about Tai Chi. She said she’d started for the health benefits. Same with sculpting, to exercise her right brain. We talked for almost an hour. I was entranced by her energy.

Smiling an impish grin, she leaned toward me. “Do you want to know how old I am?”

I said, “Yes, but I’m too shy to ask.”

She was seventy-five, and I could tell she was proud of it, a model of confidence and joie de vivre in older age. I wanted what she was having.

As we began our goodbyes, she said she’d recently learned to play the ukulele. For a woman cruising alone this was a cool way to socialize, as uke players tend to bring their instruments on trips. She’d jammed with a group on the beach in Waikiki a few days earlier. After I got home I saw an article about how ukulele is hot right now.

I loved Sherri’s wit, humor and curiosity. If she wanted to know something, she went out and learned it. I felt drawn to her aliveness. Sherri is exceptional, but she represents a wave of change in regard to aging. My husband has made lots of friends on the tennis courts, men in their mid-seventies who are gourmet cooks, singers, world travelers, speakers, writers, and government activists. Remember how we used to see old people when we were young? Here’s a reminder: the lyrics to Old Friends by Simon and Garfunkel. They wrote it as young men in 1968.

Old friends, old friends sat on their park bench like bookends
A newspaper blowin’ through the grass
Falls on the round toes of the high shoes of the old friends

Old friends, winter companions, the old men
Lost in their overcoats, waiting for the sun
The sounds of the city sifting through trees

Settles like dust on the shoulders of the old friends
Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly
How terribly strange to be seventy…

I wonder if we’re aging more slowly these days. Not just older people; on the other end of the age scale, young people seem to take longer to mature. Maybe it’s all the preservatives in our food. Better living through chemistry.

Sherri Cavan
Interview about Berkeley Years, Teachers, and Friends, November 30, 2008

Having Been Goffman's Student I Am Drawn to Voltaire’s Dictum, To the Living We Owe Respect, to the Dead We Owe Only the Truth


Dmitri Shalin and Sherri Cavan
Selected Correspondence, 2008-2009


* The Erving Goffman Archives (EGA) is the web-based, open-source project that serves as a clearing house for those interested in the dramaturgical tradition in sociology and biographical methods of research.  The EGA is located in the Intercyberlibrary of the UNLV Center of Democratic Culture,   Postings on the website are divided into four partially overlapping sections: “Documents and Papers,” “Biographical Materials,” “Critical Assessments,” and “Comments and Dialogues.”  For inquiries regarding the EGA projects, please contact Dr. Dmitri Shalin,  When you cite the materials collected for the EGA, please use the following reference:  Bios Sociologicus: The Erving Goffman Archives, ed. by Dmitri N. Shalin (UNLV: CDC Publications, 2009).