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Politics and International Relations (PIR): People


Hsinyen Lai

Hsinyen Lai
Hsinyen Lai
Edinburgh UK EH8 9LD
Research Interests
Middle East Politics, Historical sociology, ideas and foreign policy, the Arab Left, the Gulf region


MSc(R), Politics (University of Edinburgh, UK)

MA, Political Science (National Chung-Cheng University, Taiwan)

BA, Arabic Language and Literature (National Cheng-Chi University, Taiwan)


Dr Ewan Stein and Professor Juliet Kaarbo

PhD Project

The Social Struggle around 'Arabism' in Foreign Policy: Gramsci on the case of Bahrain, 1971-1981

My research interests mainly lie at the intersection of historical sociology and Middle East politics, especially with the focus on ideologies and their (re)production in foreign policy and popular movements as consequence of 'the international' social formation.

My PhD project investigates how Bahrain's foreign policy toward its alignment was shaped along with the struggle between different social forces around the development of 'Arabism'. It focuses the phase between Bahrain's formal independence in 1971 and its participation in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in 1981.  Drawing on Antonio Gramsci as a theoretical framework for making a case of historical sociology, I give alternative accounts to IR Wendtian constructivist understanding of the relationship of foreign policy and ideas in the Middle East. I argue that Arabism in foreign policy does not ascribe to identity shift alongside the twilight of Arabism vis-a-vis the rise of sovereignty norm, nor to changes in state leaders' intersubjectivity in the international arena. The representation of Arabism in foreign policy relates to socio-political formation cut across the national, regional and international level, and reflects the social struggle between 'the people' and 'the state' that has been centre around the contested notion of sovereignty. 

For the case of Bahrain, popular movements related to Arabism had emerged with the advent of Bahrain's modernisation process motivated by British colonialism. Since the late 1960s, they were then ideologically influenced by the rise of New Arab Left in the Middle East, the Marxist-Leninist revolutions in Arabia and more broadly the international solidarity movement. While Bahrain achieved its political independence in 1971, a process of historical reconstruction as 'passive revolution'- the 1973 parliamentary experiment in particular- was initiated by the Al Khalifa regime to forge an integral state of Bahrain and, if successful, weather the regional revolutions by ideologically linking itself to 'civil society'. However, under the pressure of geopolitical and capitalist competition, this process was interrupted. The struggle between different social forces was unsolved, and ideological disconnection between the Al Khalifa and civil society remained. As result,  as a non-hegemonic state of Bahrain, the Al Khalifa failed to derive ideological powers from society for making state foreign policy toward alignment. In a dilemma of making its open alignment with the US, the Al Khalifa was then outsourcing ideological powers to other states, regional and international issues. This course, intertwined with historical conditions and contingencies, then created different alignment alternatives for the Al Khalifa in the second half of the 1970s and early 1980s. Also, it brought about the effect of reconceptualizing the notion of Arabism in Bahrain's foreign policy, which was confirmed by Iranian revolution in 1979 and the Iran-Iraq war that paved the road to Bahrain's participation in the GCC. This is a historical process of which Arabism in Bahrain's foreign policy was socially formed, and what I call 'ideological fix'.

Publications and Presentations

  • Ewan Stein and Hsinyen Lai, 'Ideology, Foreign Policy and Regional Order in the Middle East: Explaining the Persistence of Rival Security Alignments', presented at 5th Global International Studies Conference, World International Studies Committee, Taipei, April 2017.
  • Hsinyen Lai, 'Rethinking the Role of Ideas in the International Relations of the Persian Gulf,' presented at Taiwan Scientific Symposium in Scotland, Edinburgh, March 2015.
  • Hsinyen Lai, 'A Meso Approach to Ideas and Foreign Policy in the Middle East: the Anatomy of StateSociety Relations in Historical Sociology,' paper presented at the International Studies Association's annual convention, New Orleans, February 2015.
  • Hsinyen Lai, ‘Security Ideas among Arab States: a Perspective on nonMaterial Structural Norms,’ in Middle East, Islam and Taiwan: Discourse on Regional Security, Foreign Relations and Culture, edited by ChangKuan Lin, Taipei: Center for the Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, NCCU Press, 2011, pp. 53-80 (in Mandarin Chinese).
  • Hsinyen Lai, ‘Institutional Cooperation Shaping National Security Ideas: From the Experience of the Gulf Cooperation Council,’ paper presented at the Academy for International Relations Studies' annual convention, Taipei, November 2010 (in Mandarin Chinese).

Other Publications

Grants and Awards

  • WISC Travel Grant, World International Studies Committee (2017) 
  • Fieldwork funding, School of Social and Political Science, Edinburgh University (2016) 
  • Government Scholarship, Ministry of Education, Taiwan (2015-2016)
  • ISA Travel Grant, International Studies Association (2015)

Teaching Experience

  • Tutor,  'Politics of the Middle East', University of Edinburgh (Spring 2017)
  • Tutor, 'Egypt: Political Dynamics in a Changing Middle East', University of Edinburgh (Spring 2015)
  • Teaching assistant, 'History of the Middle East', National Cheng-Chi University, Taiwan (Spring 2012)
  • Teaching assistant,  'Modern History of International Politics', National Chung-Cheng University, Taiwan (Fall 2007/ Spring 2008)
  • Teaching assistant, 'Theories of International Relations', National Chung-Cheng University, Taiwan (Fall 2007/ Spring 2008) 

Memberships and Other Activities

  • Member of International Relations Research Group, Edinburgh University
  • Member of International Studies Association (ISA)
  • English-Mandarin Chinese interpreter, the Taiwan Public Financial Management training programme (August 29-September 10, 2016) and the Taiwan Executive Leadership Programme (September 1-12, 2014),  Academy of Government, Edinburgh University
  • Secretary of Cross-Party Group on Taiwan, Scottish Parliament