L.H.M. Ling

In Memoriam
L.H.M. (Lily) Ling
Professor of International Affairs
Julien J.Studley Programs in
International Affairs (SGPIA)
The New School
1955 – 2018

Michael Cohen 
SGPIA Faculty, founding director

Lily Ling joined the GPIA in 2002 and was an engaged, creative, and productive member of the faculty. She was a committed advocate for what the GPIA should become and how we should channel our ambition. As Director I had many discussions with Lily about our work, about the state of the world, and how to find the difficult balance between scholarship and activism. She always believed we needed to do more. She would come into my office, close the door behind her, and say “Mike, we have to talk.” I would put my seatbelt on and the ride would begin, often with many ups and downs, but always in a constructive and highly energized way. She was always ready to back up her words with action.

Her identity as a scholar reflected her enormous appetite for exploration and learning. She was unafraid to express herself in fables, plays, and stories, frequently demonstrating that alternative registers of expression could help us understand the diversity of thought and sensibilities that she saw in the world.  She was widely recognized as leading voice for alternative ways to understand international relations.

On a personal level, I always felt that I knew exactly where I stood with Lily. She was direct, honest, and serious. Her wonderful sense of humor did not stand in the way of clear and sensitive communication. I will miss her very much.

Jacquelin Kataneksza
SGPIA Alumna, phd student
A Tribute to Lily.

Lily was extraordinary. Not only as a scholar, but also as a teacher, mentor, and friend. She was bold—in her decolonial and postcolonial feminist thinking, writings, and daily disruptions of academic conventions. Lily’s boldness made me bolder. Her labors, love, and lessons transformed me.

She challenged me to be a braver scholar. Sharper in my analysis and writing. She encouraged me to find spaces of rebellion in my work.  She taught me how to fight against my intellectual insecurities. To see the value of my scholarly contributions. To be kinder in my critiques, both of my own work and the work of others.

Lily taught me how to teach. To take seriously the privilege of co-creating knowledge with others. To constantly challenge that which I think I know to be true. To seek out and foster collaborations and intellectual solidarities. To think differently and as a result to see the world differently. To imagine other possibilities and paradigms.

When life was challenging, Lily reminded me that laughter and a sharp wit can be subversive. An upset to the order of things that can be radically resistant and liberating. Much as she would deny it, I am indebted to her. And thankful to be.

Stephen Collier
Former SGPIA Faculty and Chair, Professor of City & Regional Planning, UC Berkeley

During the time I was on the GPIA faculty from 2003 to 2018, Lily Ling was a true force in shaping our program’s identity. She fought relentlessly for the idea that international affairs had to be a vital field of critical thought that challenged dominant ways of thinking about the world, as well as a space for exploring alternatives. She met a palpable need among students, particularly in recent years, to open up the conversation about international affairs to new and different voices. And she tirelessly and ultimately successfully pushed the broader community of scholarship in International Relations to do the same. Lily animated generations of students at GPIA who were inspired by her example and by the challenges she presented to them. A remarkable number of her students—both from Syracuse and The New School—taught and continue to teach at SGPIA. The spirit of her intellectual and critical project will live on. She will be sorely missed. 

Cyril Ghosh
SGPIA Faculty

In Memoriam: L.H.M. Ling

I first met Lily Ling in Fall 2001, soon after I moved to the United States from India. This was in Syracuse where I was, at the time, a first-semester Ph.D. student (at Syracuse University). One of the courses I was enrolled in during this time was Gavan Duffy’s course on logic, philosophy of science, and qualitative methods (somewhat oddly titled at SU: “Logic of Political Inquiry”). Gavan and Lily, as I discovered when I first met her, were married.

Years later, Gavan was to become one of my mentors and one of the members on my dissertation committee.

I have several very fond memories of those early years, when I lived in Syracuse. One of them is this: Gavan and I would frequently drive down to New York – he, to see Lily, and I, because I had fallen head over heels in love with New York City.

Over time, I got to know Lily well and, even though she never taught me in an official capacity, I came to learn a lot from her simply by spending time with her. Before we knew it, and without us planning it, like Gavan, she too had become a friend and a mentor of mine.

Lily was the first person to teach me about the fertile confluence of postcolonial theory, feminism/feminist theory, and IR. She also looked out for ways to help me with my career and professional development. And she did this – always, and I need to emphasize this, always – without asking for anything in return. In 2004, when I moved down to New York from Syracuse, she connected me with Nina Khrushcheva, who was, at the time, supervising GPIA’s (as the department was then called) Media & Culture concentration. Lily forwarded my CV to Nina who, in turn, then hired me to teach a class during the Spring 2005 semester.

I will never forget this experience. This was the first time I was going to teach a graduate seminar and I was absolutely (often palpably) terrified. Now when I look back, 13 years later, I realize that Lily saw something in me then that I didn’t yet see. She saw that I had the ability to do the job even though I was not at all sure of this myself.

She also liked to, and there is no other way to say this, make sure I ate hearty meals from time to time. During the 17 years of my life that I knew her, Lily (and Gavan) fed me, without exaggeration, dozens of meals – both at their house in Syracuse and at her apartment here in New York. In the beginning, I think, she did it because she knew I was a not-so-well-off graduate student. But at some point it mutated into just something she did because she liked to do it. And – now that I am thinking about it – I honestly cannot remember a single time when I refused an invitation from her that involved a meal! But I never returned the favor. I never cooked her a meal. I do wish, though, now, that I had.

The sharing of meals, however, only constituted one dimension of our interaction. Over the years, I also worked with Lily closely on intellectual terrain. We read each other’s work and gave each other feedback. When Lily wrote Transforming World Politics (Routledge, 2009; with Anna Agathangelou), she asked me if I would serve as editorial consultant on it and shepherd the book through its publication. I gladly accepted the invitation. And in the process of doing the work, I learned even more from her than I had done before.

She helped me in other ways too. A couple of years ago, Lily invited me to be a panelist on a roundtable on Cynthia Weber’s book on Queer International Relations (OUP, 2016). This yielded for me an opportunity to work with Cindy: soon after the event, I contributed to a symposium on the book on the critical theory blog run out of SOAS – “Disorder of Things.” Earlier this year, just before the Spring 2018 semester started, I asked Lily for feedback on a manuscript I was myself developing. I must say I was nervous at first. I knew well that Lily could be a harsh critic. But I also knew that it was worth it for me to set my pride aside because I both needed and wanted her feedback. After all, she was not just an intellectual companion, she was also an intellectual sparring partner.

As always, she gave me a gently-worded but pointed criticism, especially of Chapter 2 of what later became De-Moralizing Gay Rights (Palgrave-Pivot, 2018). I can’t say I was ecstatic about it in the beginning but I had respect for her critique. It is only when I started incorporating the changes she suggested that I realized just how valuable her comments actually were. This section of the book is immeasurably better-argued because of Lily’s insights. But her contribution to the book is far deeper and far wider than the comments she wrote on the margins of that chapter. I can say without any hesitation, for example, that Lily either taught me, or guided me toward, most of the postcolonial feminist theory literature, and much of the critical theory literature, that I know today. And it is her intellectual companionship that I will miss the most about her, now that she is no longer physically present among us. Yes, even more so than the meals we shared.

As I get older, I might forget much of what I have written here today about my relationship with her. In fact, it is inevitable that I will forget quite a lot of it. But I cannot end this piece without mentioning one small thing that I will not forget any time soon.

Ten years ago, the day I was supposed to defend my Ph.D. dissertation at Syracuse University, Lily happened to be in town. She told me I needed to come see her before I headed into campus for the defense (Gavan was, after all, headed to the same place). I think this was the only time she ever commanded me to do anything. She prosaically explained to me that there was no point in skipping breakfast (something she knew I would have done) no matter how anxious I was about my defense. And so it was that, without any fuss at all, she made scrambled eggs for me that April morning. It was an ordinary gesture for her. But – unbeknownst to her – it meant the world to me.

Peter Hoffman
Assistant Professor, SGPIA

Lily was incredibly welcoming to me when I first arrived. She made a point of inviting me for tea and to include me in several of her projects. What stands out for me is that she was not only one to share her opinion but to solicit those of others. She both outspoken and an open listener. And this showcased how she merged the professional and personal: Lily did not just want her voice heard, she fought for every voice to be heard.
I greatly admired Lily for both her intellectual contribution to the field of international affairs — she was formative in recasting the scope and by effect the narrative of the field — as well as for her inspiring productivity. Moreover, once I got know her better, that admiration was coupled with endearment. She was extremely encouraging in terms of work and career; often giving me pep talks about each. When I last saw her face-to-face in the hospital in March, I expressed my concern for her health, and she acknowledged it with a warm smile that lingered and then said to me, “But how are you? Have you heard anything more about your position?” Her tone was sweet, sincere, compassionate, and heartening. We then proceeded to discuss some of the things we each had been reading while she did some physical therapy — she was not about to let her physical condition get in the way of friendly chat.

Thelma Armstrong
Executive Assistant to Dean, Schools of Public Engagement

You Start Dying Slowly

You start dying slowly, if you do not travel,

if you do not read, If you do not listen to the sounds of life,

If you do not appreciate yourself, you start dying slowly

When you kill your self-esteem;

When you do not let others help you.

You start dying slowly

If you become a slave of your habits,

Walking everyday on the same paths…

If you do not change your routine,

If you do not wear different colours

Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.

You start dying slowly

If you avoid to feel passion, and their turbulent emotions;

Those which make your eyes glisten, and your heart beat fast.

You start dying slowly

If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job, or with your love,

If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,

If you do not go after a dream,

If you do not allow yourself, At least once in your lifetime,

To run away from sensible advice…

Martha Medeiros – Brazilian Writer

Lily lived a full, vibrant and enriching life, she walked her own special path; she pursued her dreams; she read and she wrote prolifically; she took risks; and she inspired her students, peers and friends in amazing ways.

If you were fortunate to be in Lily’s world, you weren’t allowed to “start dying slowly.”


The passing of LHM (Lily) Ling, professor of International Affairs at the New School, has been a great loss for the International Relations community.

Professor Ling recovered from a brain aneurysm she experienced last February, but suffered a recurrence and passed on October 1. Dr. Ling was a productive and widely-read scholar in the field of international studies. She was most well-known for being a leader of post-colonial international relations, which analyzed world politics from the perspective of the colonized. Dr. Ling authored or co-authored several books, including The Dao of World Politics: Towards a Post-Westphalian, Worldist International Relations (2014), and published many articles in top IR journal.

“Professor Ling used her intellectual analysis to pry open all of our minds to a gendered understanding of international politics that recognizes our own North American/Eurocentrism, while also spelling out an alternative.”

At the time of her passing, Dr. Ling served on the faculty of the New School in New York City. Prior to this, she taught at the Institute of Social Studies in The Hauge, Cornell University, Syracuse University, and at the University of Texas at Austin. In 2017, she was honored as an “eminent scholar” by the Feminist Theory and Gender Studies Section of the International Studies Association. Dr. Ling was also a gifted teacher and mentor, and she will be missed.


Priya Ananthanathan
After my first class with Lily I knew I found the class I would love. It was in my final year at the New School learning about Non-Western Approaches. The GPIA extra credit class that I shouldn’t be spending all of my time on but couldn’t help it because the readings opened my eyes, stretched my critical thinking skills, and introduced me to a like minded group of wanderers interested in how the past connects with our present. Lily was the leader of our caravan of wanderers. She led us down the history of the Silk Road and forced us to engage our brain and senses in ways you only could dream of in a course. Working on the Silk Road project with her was an experience I’ll forever treasure. Lily asked you to “unthink” all the structured thinking that you used and to find the layers of history, food, culture and spirit. Her zest of life is what I’ll remember the most — it’s the most palpable thing of her loss. 
I’ll miss my teacher dearly but in her spirit, continue to strive to experience life the same way she did, with a full sense of zest, imagination and sincerity. 

Mary Watson
Executive Dean, The New School
A Life in Progress
In memory of L.H.M. Ling

It is with a sense of deep loss that I write this brief memorial of L.H.M. (Lily) Ling, an imaginative and captivating scholar, teacher, and colleague. It has been a tumultuous year for Lily’s family and community, with the near loss of her earlier this year, followed by what seemed to be a miraculous recovery, then her anticipated return to the faculty in the coming weeks, only to be dashed a week ago by her sudden passing. That the shock of loss of Lily’s vibrant presence has been observed by so many is evidence of a life very much in progress.

As those in her scholarly fields know, Lily was a serious intellectual who rejected the extant paradigms in International Relations, ones she found harmful and limiting. Lily was not one to rest with critique, however, but rather she forged a new path she called “worldism,” developing an international following of those who seek inclusion and fluidity in world politics. In her teaching, she animated some of the possibilities through courses on the Silk Road, where student research and political boundary crossings were embedded in cultural feasts.

Always a staunch critic of power holders, Lily called out colonization, sexism, and racism, among other forms of oppression. She lived a life addressing powers that denied others their full humanity. She invited us to reject hierarchical and hegemonic approaches while also accepting their existence in all of us, because following Daoist thinking she knew all opposites are embedded in each other. She wrote about the challenges faced by women of color in the academy, and she shaped academic promotion practices with policies of inclusion.

Lily enthusiastically and fully loved life, and the people who surrounded her were drawn to her creative expression. She wrote poems, fables, and graphic novels, lit candles, placed flowers, burned sage, and built new networks of learners of all places. In recent weeks, she and I had been discussing hosting the Critical Edge Alliance conference in New York. Lily was a key force in this international network, and her colleagues and I will undoubtedly recall her compelling keynote in Copenhagen when we dedicate this convening to her at The New School in 2019.

I will close with just one personal memory. On one of my visits with Lily, just before she left the hospital after her major recovery this past spring, I asked her whether she had been afraid at the time of the sudden onset of her debilitating illness. She smiled and said she had not, that she had “felt a deep calm as if she had been through this before and everything was going to be fine.” As I write this I am listening to Angélique Kidjo’s song Malaika and remembering the 2001 album reviewing Kidjo’s work, entitled Keep On Moving. Lily’s legacy will undoubtedly keep on moving through all of us, as she characteristically moves on in ways understood only to her.

Caroline Pinheiro 
SGPIA Alumna

“Continue dreaming”, she said.

This was my last communication from Lily, on September 18th. Her one line email contained all that Lily was and inspired in my world within so many other worlds. 

Lily was on Earth and continue to be in Spirit this welcoming  soul to innovative ideas, an amazing writer and creative being. She was able to transform any vague idea in a concrete project and lead its execution with discipline, passion and fluidity. 

Oh Lily! 

Like water

Another shape you took

For our hearts and minds 

You flowed from here to there

In my Spirit the greatest marks you left 

Creativity and Discipline

Thorough knowledge 

Laughter and Courage

Wisdom and Love

And as I remember you

As I follow Wanda’s journey

As I listen to your voice

As I help you decipher your latest dream

As I translate from Portuguese 

I live my imagination 

I create realities 

I recreate pathways in between worlds 

And I find you drinking tea, 

Smiling and confident.

As you did so much 

And so much we have to revive you and improve our world

And all those with whom we relate

We follow your path 

Your students are here 

To water the seeds you planted 

To watch the Worldist plant grow

And build better relations 

In a world of amazing worlds. 

Go in peace my dear mentor, example and friend. 

Jonathan Bach
SGPIA Faculty

Lily and I were hired at the same time into GPIA, which was then in its second year. To be her colleague at The New School held a special honor for me—I had been her student at Syracuse University ten years earlier, and she and her husband, Gavan, had played a significant role in my intellectual and academic trajectory—I would not be the person I am today without them. I recall being introduced by them to their mentor, the late Hayward Alker, as his “grandstudent,” thereby bringing me discursively (in a small but, to me, significant way) into the longer trajectory of humanistic approaches to the “international,” which Lily’s work exemplified. Later, in the singular opportunity to create a new Masters program, GPIA provided a renewed freedom and impetus for “rediscoveries and reformulations,” and Lily played a critical role in making GPIA not only an alternative to mainstream international relations (IR) but to redefine IR itself. To do this required going beyond immanent critiques to changing the methodologies and mindsets by which the world is apprehended and engaged. In this Lily was revolutionary in her own scholarly and creative work, in the classroom, and in the curriculum and beyond. Her ideas were radically innovative, her energy infectious, her rigor unassailable, her humanity profound, her influence continuously spiraling out to inspire people all over the world. Her wonderful laugh was an expression of life’s joyful possibilities and a clarion call to all of us to be true to ourselves. I remember sitting in her IR theory class 27 years ago and I am still proud and humbled to call myself her student. Lily, thank you.

Alisha C. Perrigoue
SGPIA Alumna

It’s hard to write something I consider of any import without Lily’s counsel.  Like many of you, I conferred, confided, and trusted in her implicitly. However, I often turned to her for many things beyond writing and beyond the university’s walls.  She was a mentor, a coauthor, a friend, a most entertaining dining companion, and in many ways a compass, which seems ironic as I write this given her uncanny ability to get lost in her own neighborhood!  While we all entered Lily’s office at various stages of our academic development, she treated everyone with the same level of seriousness. She treated everyone’s work with the same level of importance… so long as it interested her.  And, most everything interested her.

Lily’s teaching approach was one that many preach and but very few practice to the degree she did.  Most simply do not have her capacity, intellectually or physically. Yet, with an increasingly demanding university schedule, academic obligations, and writing schedule Lily always made time.  She made time not just for extensive, thought provoking comments but time to ask about you as well as your thoughts on a particular, likely nonrelated, subject. Lily believed in and made time for wide collaboration.  She coauthored with established scholars from around the world, some relatively unknown, and, perhaps most importantly, graduate students. “Knowledge is not”, she would say, “top-down… Knowledge is nurturing. It is relational.”   This sounds obvious but the zeal with which Lily embraced and practiced this model of teaching was far from, true to her style, the normal.

Lily was not, however, just a nurturer.  Not necessarily mutually exclusive from her nurturing side she could also be tough, demanding (of herself just as much of others), and admirably strong.  She was even infamous in some circles for taking staunch academic stands and standing tall in situations where most would concede to professional pressures and academic seniorities.  While her encounters with certain Marxist and Realist scholars make for exciting tales, she would hope she is most remembered for her courage not only to confront but to engage and to include those who think differently.  As much as she may have disagreed and differed, she understood that opposition cannot exist without a, sometimes intimate, relationship. Lily’s legacy and lessons are something we all can continue learning from and sharing with others.

Executive Committee of the Feminist Theory and Gender Studies Section of ISA

At last year’s ISA meeting in San Francisco, the Feminist Theory and Gender Studies section honored Professor LHM (Lily) Ling with FTGS’s Eminent Scholar Award. Today, sadly, we mourn Professor Ling’s passing. It is a sad day for our community, and a great loss to the International Relations community as a whole. 

Professor Ling was Professor of International Affairs at the New School. Her work is extraordinary for its breadth and depth of field, which challenged us all to think critically and with solidarity with each other. She developed rich relationships with colleagues in our field, which are reflected in the number of co-authored works and edited volumes. She is the author of several important works, including Postcolonial International Relations: Conquest and Desire between Asia and the West(2002), Transforming World Politics: From Empire to Multiple Worlds (co-authored with A.M. Agathangelou, York University, 2009); The Dao of World Politics: Towards a Post-Westphalian, Worldist International Relations (2014); and Imagining World Politics: Sihar & Shenya, A Fable for Our Times (2014). Her anthologies include Theorizing International Politics from the Global South: Worlds of Difference (co-edited with Nizar Messari and Arlene B. Tickner); Asia in International Relations: Unlearning Imperial Power Relations (co-edited with Pinar Bilgin, Routledge, 2017); India and China: Rethinking Borders and Security (University of Michigan Press, 2016); and Four Seas to One Family: Overseas Chinese and the Chinese Dream (co-edited with Tan Chung, bilingual edition, 2015). Her articles appeared in the top journals of our field. 

Professor Ling is beloved in our community for her mentorship and generosity of spirit. She worked tirelessly on behalf of FTGS and the International Feminist Journal of Politics. Her work with graduate students has left an indelible impression upon their work, as well as the the work of her peers. As Cynthia Enloe wrote in one of Professor Ling’s nomination letters last year, “Professor Ling used her intellectual analysis to pry open all of our minds to a gendered understanding of international politics that recognizes our own North American/Eurocentrism, while also spelling out an alternative.For so many of us in FTGS this was indeed stretchy and reinvigorating.” Reinvigorating indeed. Professor Ling’s writings breathed passion and life into much of our own work, and we are truly grateful for that. Her sense of adventure was reflected in not only her critical engagement with and challenge to the IR canon but also in her ability to think outside the box in her writing. Her book Imagining World Politics: Sihar & Shenya, A Fable for Our Times (2014) was written as a fable, a play to engage multiple audiences on important issues of our times. She used film, literature and art in developing her acute and razor–sharp analyses of world politics. 

Lily had a wicked sense of humor which was put to good use in calling out misogyny and racism, calming down tricky situations, and entertaining her friends and students. No wonder then that she had such a loyal following of students and friends among our community, which will be devastated by her loss. She will be much missed by so many. 

We would like to include our entire community to honor Professor Ling. Thus, FTGS welcomes tributes and reflections, to be posted on our website, genderingworldpolitics.com. We welcome any and all reflections upon her work, and hope to create a lasting memorial. 

Erica dingman

Lily is joy! In my heart she is very much in the present, having had a profound affect on me as a mentor and friend. Her spirit is alive.

As a consummate theorist and analyst Lily does not accept boundaries. Boundaries are imaginary, established to enforce power. My impression of Lily is that these imaginary boundaries are mere obstacles; a puzzle for which there is a solution. With patience and thoughtful conversations, solutions are forthcoming, boundaries melt away to reveal empathy between diverse peoples and cultures.

Over the last few days I’ve been listening to the Silkroad Ensemble and thinking about Lily. The music unfolds as one theme flows to the next, dissonance turning to difference, each layer dissolving to emerge in an enthusiastic crescendo of pure joy. Harmony is reached by allowing full expression of each emotional state, not by brushing aside individual reality. Through the music, body movement and facial expressions the musicians express the joy and enthusiasm of intentional harmony. This is Lily. Beauty. Joy. And Worldism.