Headshot photo of Saint Mary's faculty Yuan Li

Additional Links:

Personal Website

Yuan Li , Ph.D.

Headshot photo of Saint Mary's faculty Yuan Li
Department: Leadership, Ethics, and Law

Professional Overview

Dr. Yuan Li is an associate professor of management and organization theory. She obtained her PhD in Business Administration from 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 Montreal, Quebec.

Dr. Yuan Li’s research concerns the cultural and symbolic processes of organizational, institutional, and technological change. She studies how leaders and change agents use rhetorical tropes, arguments, and symbols to make meaning and influence reality. Published work has examined the diffusion of managerial innovations such as the Total Quality Management, the role of the government, intellectual and media elites, and entrepreneurs in China's economic transformation, impact of discourse on ODC (organizational development and change), and organizational event stigma. She is most known for theoretical models that explain mechanisms of institutionalization and decoupling as microlevel and macrolevel phenomena coevolve. These models have practical implications for a wide range of cases such as the adoption of DEI, ESG, and new technologies. 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.

Her research has been published in leading management journals such as the Academy of Management Journal, Academy of Management Review, Journal of Management Studies, Journal of Business Ethics, Journal of Management Inquiry, Management Communication Quarterly, and Culture and Organization, among others. She serves on the Editorial Board of Organization Studies, the flagship journal of EGOS (European Group for Organization Studies).

Courses Taught:

Business Strategy (Undergraduate, MBA)
Organizational Behavior and Leadership (Undergraduate, MBA)
Capstone Project (MBA)
Global Strategy (MBA)
Organizational Theory (EDBA)
Integrated Research Design (EDBA)
Knowledge Dissemination (EDBA)

Publications (selected):


Li, Y. (2024). China’s capitalist transformation: The rhetoric that mattered. De Gruyter.

Refereed Journal Articles 

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.

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.

Chapters in Refereed Books

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.

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. (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 (Management and Organization). Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California, 2009.
  • MA, BA Tsinghua University