Headshot photo of Saint Mary's faculty Yuan Li

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Yuan Li , Ph.D.

Headshot photo of Saint Mary's faculty Yuan Li
Department: School of Economics & Business Administration (SEBA)

Professional Overview

Bio: Dr. Yuan Li is an associate professor at Saint Mary's College of California in the Leadership, Ethics, and Law Department. She obtained her PhD in the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California. Before coming back to California, she was an assistant professor of Strategy and Organization at the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University in Quebec, Canada. 

Yuan's research concerns the cultural and symbolic processes of organizational and institutional change. She studies how leaders and change agents use tropes, arguments, and symbols to make meaning and influence reality. Her work has explored the diffusion of managerial innovations such as the Total Quality Management, the role of the government, elites, and entrepreneurs in China's economic transformation, and theoretical models of institutionalization. 

Recently, Yuan began to explore topics of grand societal challenges, including stigmatization and workplace inequality. She is also interested in integrating ideas of Western and Eastern philosophies to produce practical knowledge. 

Yuan uses qualitative methods as well as quantitative content analysis tools to generate insights into the social-symbolic work of individuals, organizations, and institutions. 

Her research has been published in leading management journals such as the Academy of Management JournalAcademy of Management ReviewJournal of Management StudiesJournal of Management Inquiry, Culture and Organization, Management Communication Quarterly, and Journal of Business Ethics, among others. She serves on the Editorial Board of Organization Studies.

Yuan teaches Organizational Behavior and Business Strategy courses in the undergraduate and MBA programs. She also teaches Organizational Theory, Integrated Research Design, and Knowledge Dissemination courses in the EDBA program. 

Having lived in Beijing, Los Angeles, and Montreal, she has a thing or two to say about the East and the West. 

Courses Taught: 

  • Business Strategy
  • Organizational Behavior 
  • Leadership
  • Organizational Theory 
  • Integrative Research Design 
  • Knowledge Dissemination



Refereed Articles 

  • Li, Y. (forthcoming). From institutionalization to the simulacra: The repetition of signs in the micro-macro processes. Beyond microfoundations and macrofoundations: A cross-level linguistic perspective of institutions (Research in the Sociology of Organizations). Emerald Insight.
  • Li, Y. (2023). Intentionality, not just agency: bringing intended meaning back into the micro–macro institutionalization processes. Culture and Organization, 29(4): 271-297.
  • Li, Y., Suddaby, R. (2023). How institutions communicate change: Casuistry and loosely coupled change in China’s market transformation. Management Communication Quarterly, 37(3): 629-658.
  • Clark, K., Li, Y. (2023). Organizational event stigma: typology, processes, stickiness. Journal of Business Ethics, 186: 511-530.
  • Oswick, C., Li, Y. (2023). The Role and Relevance of Discourse and Discursive Perspectives in Organizational Change and Development", Noumair, D.A.(Rami) Shani, A.B. and Zandee, D.P. (Ed.) Research in Organizational Change and Development, Vol. 30, Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 155-181.
  • Li, Y., Green, S., & Hirsch, P. (2018). Rhetoric and authority in a polarized transition: The case of China’s stock market. Journal of Management Inquiry, 27(1): 69-95.
  • Li, Y. (2017). A semiotic theory of institutionalization. Academy of Management Review, 42(3): 520-547.
  • Green, S., Li, Y. (2011). Rhetorical Institutionalism: Language, Agency, and Structure in Institutional Theory since Alvesson 1993. Journal of Management Studies, 48(7): 1662-1697.
  • Green, S., Li, Y. and Nohria, N. (2009). Suspended in Self-Spun Webs of Significance: A Rhetorical Model of Institutionalization and Institutionally Embedded Agency. Academy of Management Journal, 52(1): 11-36.
  • Davison, R.M., Martinsons, M.G., Li, Y. and Lo, H.W.H. (2009). The Ethics of IT Professionals in China. Communications of the ACM, 52(9): 153-155.
  • Davison, R.M., Martinsons, M.G., Ou, C.X.J., Murata, K., Drummond, D., Li, Y., Lo, H.W.H. (2009). The Ethics of IT Professionals in Japan and China. Journal of the Association for Information Systems, 10(Special Issue): 834-859.
  • Davison, R., Li, Y. and Kam, C. (2006). Web-Based Data Collection in China. Journal of Global Information Management, 14 (3): 70-89, reprinted as a book chapter in Hunter, G. and Tan, F. (Eds.) International Perspectives in Advancing Information Management: Global Adaptations, Idea Group Publishing, 167-188.

Chapters in Refereed Books

  • Li, Y. (2014). Institutions and Entrepreneurship: Three regions, three tales. Building business in emerging and developing countries: challenges and opportunities. Chrysostome, E., Molz, R., and Yan, L. Eds. Routledge, 92-117.


  • PhD, Business Administration. Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California, 2009.
  • MA, Tsinghua University, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Beijing, China.
  • BA, Tsinghua University, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Beijing, China.