Cassandra Sever

  • Visiting Instructor in Sociology
Cass Sever

Cassandra Sever is interested in the sociology of the self, and the ways individuals embody, and fail to embody, the metaphysical commitments of their cultures. In her current work, she is re-conceptualizing the self as an object in sociology toward creating a theory of “cultural despair.” In this, she hopes to explain individual crises of the self that become patterned across society. She is compelled by the social crises that we commonly recognize as manifestations of despair, such as suicide and mental health epidemics, as well as those we may struggle to recognize as despair because of own moral and social commitments. She strives to create a “universal” object of the self that allows scholars to step beyond these commitments, and thus create a new route by which to see social problems plaguing the self, both in modern times and across history. Such an object and theory might, for instance, re-imagine contemporary anti-democratic sentiment in the West and nostalgia for totalitarian regimes, often viewed as social problems of identity-based conflict, as manifestations of cultural despair.

With an interest in disciplinary metaphysics and epistemology (in particular, how sociology understands the human person and “thinks” with it), her work commonly threads historic philosophy into sociology. Her theoretical work critically considers individuals’ orientation to the Good (our lifelong attempts to be “good” people and relatedly experience a meaningful life), a defining, and too often overlooked, feature of being human. More broadly, she questions how moral institutions teach us to know ourselves, how knowledge of the self spreads across culture, and how these ways of knowing can create new systems of inequality.

Sever works at the intersection of cultural sociology and social theory, and she maintains a strong methodological interest in ethnography, or engaging with people in the real world through in-depth interviews and observation. She believes capturing the experiences of everyday people to be essential for mapping and understanding despair across society. Her prior theoretical work has explored the psychic harm crisis in the United States, which included proposing where it came from, examining why it flourishes, assessing how it impacts spaces of interaction and articulating who suffers most. Her prior fieldwork has investigated sex work, addiction and sexual offenses in communities of poverty.

She enjoys teaching Introduction to Sociology along with courses that grapple with the self and meaning (including sociology of the self and religion); ethnographic methods; and data literacy and public sociology (including journalistic writing). Historically, she has also taught courses in crime/deviance and social problems.

Sever is a proponent of viewpoint diversity to better understand the world and of intellectuals engaging with the public. She is a member of Heterodox Academy’s inaugural faculty Writing Cohort, and Managing Editor of the American Journal of Cultural Sociology.

Areas of Expertise

Sociology of the self; culture, inequality and stratification; ethnographic methods; social theory and metatheory; knowledges as moral orders and moral institutions; human science epistemology, ethics and metaphysics


  • A.B.D., State University of New York
  • M.A., Relay Graduate School of Education
  • B.S., Winthrop University