Remembering 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

Obituary on behalf of the Faculty & Staff

It is with profound sadness that we share the news of our friend and colleague, Lily Ling.  She passed away last Monday, October 1, 2018 after suffering a stroke the night before. This was unexpected. She had been making an extraordinary recovery since her first stroke in February.  She was working on a book manuscript and planning new projects. We were eagerly awaiting her return in the spring semester.

Lily was a scholar of singular importance whose work leaves a lasting mark on International Relations (IR).  Rejecting the Westphalian premise of world politics as an “arena of ceaseless strife and competition”, she began to offer an alternative paradigm, one that she called “Worldism”.  She was a pioneer of post-colonial and feminist approaches to IR, fields that have gained rapid momentum over the last decade. She was honored as the 2018 Eminent Scholar by Feminist Theory and Gender Studies section of the International Studies Association. And her 2002 book Postcolonial International Relations: Conquest and Desire between Asia and the West serves as one of the founding texts.  
She leaves behind a rich collection of many other works, including: Transforming World Politics: From Empire to Multiple Worlds (co-authored with A.M. Agathangelou, 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). She also co-edited four volumes, and published dozens of journal articles and book chapters.  Determined to reach multiple audiences, she conveyed her ideas in several genres, including plays, poems, manga, fables and op eds.  Her death is tragically untimely, coming at a time when her influence was growing, and her critique of IR was increasingly recognized by mainstream scholars.
To say that she was a gifted teacher and a generous colleague would be true but an understatement.  She inspired and collaborated with multiple coauthors from diverse fields across the world. She mentored many students, often continuing to work with them long after graduation. Once writing “Higher education should function like a chrysalis, I believe, to nurture discovery and experimentation so this interior self can manifest and soar”, Lily challenged students to transform themselves.

One of the first to join the SGPIA faculty (in 2002), Lily was central to the formation of the program, casting it in the distinctively non-orthodox mold and affixing an indelible a stamp of post-colonial and feminist approaches to IR.  Lily’s unique presence will remain in our memories. In a few words, she was: prodigious, passionate, intense, determined, original, creative, rigorous, fierce, generous, sensitive and sometimes vulnerable.

On behalf of the SGPIA faculty and staff,
Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Professor and Director, Julien J. Studley Graduate Programs in International Affairs, The New School

The International Affairs Community Remembers

Margarita Gutman 
Professor of Urban Studies and International Affairs, SGPIA

For the last couple of years we shared the office at the New School. I would characterize our sharing of our communal space as smooth, respectful, easy, and intellectually stimulating. Arriving at the office last Tuesday was difficult. Being surrounded by all her many books, pictures, objects, folk crafts, and pads left over the desk ready to take notes, made her passing seem unreal.

The sorrow and pain for her absence is bigger and at the same time comforting because the aura of Lily is in all the corners of the space. She is present in the materiality she left behind, full with an elaborated sense of aesthetic in each of the objects she selected to have in the reach of her sight as she worked. This aspect of Lily also permeates her intellectual legacy. She is present, and will be for the years to come in our minds and hearts.

Payal Banerjee 
Associate Professor of Sociology, Smith College, Massachusetts, USA

“You made it!!!” is what Lily would always say with a huge smile, throwing the door open way wider than what the hinges would allow, whenever I arrived…at her home in New York City, Syracuse, or her office in GPIA. Do please note the bounty in the number of exclamation marks used to quote Lily…it declares, among other things: the deepest enthusiasm, laughter, and profound generosity with which Lily touched life, everyday; and that, indeed, for an untold number of students she opened the door, wider than what the hinges were designed to allow. She made sure we made it…as a collective.

I met Lily when in graduate school in Syracuse University’s Maxwell School…she had come to offer a guest lecture based on her latest essay at the time on postcolonial feminist IR in our transnational feminist theory seminar. Besides the brilliance of her work, what struck me the most was this: not for a second did she interact with us as graduate students—in her conversation and manner, she considered us as intellectual collaborators. I had no idea then that I would get to know her so well and over the years we would teach, research, publish, travel, and wonder together. A couple of years later, she found out about my working paper on India’s Chinese community, read the paper overnight, and sent me her comments the next day. They were encouraging and inspired me to push forward. But that was not the end of it: those of us who have the good fortune to have known Lily, know that after the first edition of comments, a new paradigm was to be expected. The same week we met over lunch and after a long chat came up with the course idea and preliminary outline for the seminar “India and China: Encounters, Exchanges, Clashes and Flows,” which we subsequently co-taught at GPIA many times between 2006-2009. These years have embedded in them some of my fondest memories. Multiple other projects and travels evolved from this seminar, for example, a special issue co-edited by Lily on Silk Roads Ethos that just came out a few weeks ago. She taught me invaluable lessons through her intellectual work and her way of being: how to be a fearless thinker, write with conviction, that academic work need not always be seen as a struggle but as a celebration and transformation in progress, how to imagine beyond borders, engage people as equal collaborators. In my view, she has shattered the normative image of the solitary academic: Lily worked simultaneously with dozens of students and scholars across the meridians of the planet, co-published, infused these relationships with her vitality and affection, and did all this with great style and panache…over delectable meals, filled with laughter, and more plans.

To everyone reading this: find a pair of glasses, fill it with your favorite beverage, find someone to share a moment, and raise this glass in the honor of Lily, who knew and lived the joy of making the circle bigger. And throwing open doors beyond what the hinges would allow.

Ebby Abramson

I had not anticipated that I would ever again feel as deadened, withdrawn, and heartbroken as I did after my father passed away. Yet that hope was a failure of my own imagination with the passing of Lily Ling. Lily touched and inspired our lives with her intellectual rigor, grace, charm, love, kindness, generosity, scintillating conversation, and zest for life. Still more, Lily was brilliant, intuitive and often impossibly inscrutable, and for all those reasons and more she was a towering figure in my life. She was a larger than life force in advancing the field of international affairs.

Lily was a pioneer in the field who became the champion– an eminent scholar that courageously changed the direction of International Relations and the way we study it. Lily’s class was a place of energy, excitement, and friendly competition among peers. In other words, Lily’s class was a training ground—a “playground of minds” as she called it, for the real-world problems we each aspired to conquer. I was fortunate to have been a student, a research assistant, a teaching assistant and most recently a co-author of Lily’s for the past five years. She taught us that being the best in your field is not sufficient; it is critical to create new fields and, in so doing, change the way everyone else understands the world.

Lily will be dearly missed as a mentor and friend, as a role model and the ultimate example of giving while living. I’m consoled knowing that her accomplishments, her students and her intellect are enduring and will continue to exemplify the very best in the way we understand world affairs.

To read more from SGPIA faculty, students, and alumni, click below. 

If you would like to submit your reflections, please submit them to so they can be added to the collection.

Photograph by Professor Everita Silina