Yifei Li

Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, NYU Shanghai

Global Network Assistant Professor, NYU

Fellow, Henry Luce Foundation/American Council of Learned Societies


Welcome! I am a sociologist by training, environmentalist by nature, Dodger fan by accident, neo-Luddite by choice, carpenter by hobby, and skeptic by default.

(Credit: Adele Purdy)

I am also the lead author of China Goes Green: Coercive Environmentalism for a Troubled Planet (Polity, 2020, with Judith Shapiro). In the book, we provide an innovative, evidence-based analysis of China’s exercise of environmental power at home and overseas. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you are interested in this topic. I am now working on my next book, which is tentatively titled Environmentalism Of, By, and For the Chinese State.

I am deeply grateful for the critical acclaim my work has received from popular and academic presses alike. Featured stories have appeared in NPR’s The World show and The Economist’s Chaguan column. Organizations from Harvard’s Fairbank Center to the Berlin Contemporary China Network have hosted my research seminars. My interviews have been programmed into chart-topping podcasts such as The Economist’s Babbage and SupChina’s Sinica

When I procrastinate, I garden, cook, eat, and compost – not always in that order. I also like to flip through random back issues of old magazines and journals, especially when they age so well that they give off this amazing faint vanilla scent. I collect Coke cans, bottles, and crates. Don’t judge.

As for my day job, I teach Environmental Studies. Many people mistakenly introduce me as someone who teaches Environmental Science. But no, it is Environmental Studies. The word choice is not arbitrary and the differences between these words are non-trivial,  

because ‘science’, in the singular, is a term surrounded by cultishness and talismanic recitation as to who has it, what it is, and what it isn’t. It defies definition in terms other than the most loosely empirical or the dubiously prescriptive: at one extreme, science is what ‘scientists’ do when they do whatever they constitute as ‘science’; at the other, claims of science allow one to favour preferred projects while delegitimating those of hostile camps.

These words are from page xxiii of a 1996 book about Organization Studies, but are 100 percent as timely today and as applicable for Environmental Studies. 

Some people don’t know how to pronounce my name. Perhaps this is the right place to clear that up. The short answer is e-fay lee. That’s the standard Mandarin pronunciation and also how most people call me. However, there has been some confusion when people see my online alias, yeefeelee, which Romanizes the sound of my name in the Shanghai dialect: e-fee lee. That’s how most people from Shanghai call me. I was born and raised in this city of neon lights, hence the longtime use of that alias since childhood. I answer to both!

yifei.li@nyu.edu  |  +01 608 616 0417  |  yifei.li

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