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Politics and International Relations (PIR): People


Hsinyen Lai

Hsinyen Lai
Hsinyen Lai
Edinburgh UK EH8 9LD
Research Interests
Historical sociology, Gramsci and Marxist Theory, ideas and foreign policy, International Relations of the Middle East, the Gulf Arab states, the Arab Left


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

MA, Political Science with major in International Relations (National Chung-Cheng University, Taiwan)

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


Dr Ewan Stein and Professor Juliet Kaarbo

Research Interests

My research interests mainly lie at the intersection of historical sociology and international relations, especially with the focus on ideology and its interplay with state foreign policy and more broadly with regional politics through the lens of international social theory. These interests relate specifically to two areas of the Middle East and East Asia.  

PhD Project

Social Drivers of International Relations in the Gulf: Gramsci on the Case of Bahrain and Gulf Alignment 1971-1981

My PhD project is to revisit the relationship between ideology and foreign policy in the Middle East, particularly that between Arab nationalism and regional alignment in the Gulf. It seeks for the answer to the question: What explains a Gulf Arab state’s policy toward regional alignment in the independence phase? In doing so, the thesis explores the specific case of Bahrain between 1971 and 1981, a period in which Bahrain attained its formal independence and then moved towards its alignment in the form of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). To this question, the thesis advances the existing explanations in the study of the international relations of the Middle East (IRME), especially that of the Wendtian constructivist approach of norms and identities to the relationship of Arab nationalism and foreign policy. Wendtian constructivists claim that shifts in regional norms from ‘Arabism’ to sovereignty allows one to explain foreign policy in the Middle East after 1967. While such a claim is received uncritically in IRME, the regional policy of individual Gulf Arab states has been mostly examined in this vein. It has been also assumed as sharing some commonalities driven by cultural, sectarian and institutional homogeneity among these states in the region. However, this thesis offers an alternative account to it. By integrating the other histories of Arab nationalism with IRME, this thesis argues that the internal socio-political dynamics mediate the interplay of ideology and a state’s regional policy. It also further argues that the formation and evolution of Arab nationalism in international relations of the Gulf is best understood beyond norms and identities, and relocated under a more historical and sociological scrutiny− taking both the colonial history and the process of capitalist formation into consideration.

This thesis draws on Antonio Gramsci’s insights to build a theoretical framework for conducting a historical sociological investigation of the case of Bahrain. Through a reformulation of Gramsci as an alternative Gramscian approach to Coxian one in the study of international relations (IR), this thesis extracts three interrelated concepts from Gramsci− development, ideology and struggle− to examine the social bases that conditions the formation and evolution of Arab nationalism, and the political struggle that forms an apparatus through which Arab nationalism influences Bahrain’s policy toward Gulf cooperation in the 1970s. It argues that the political struggle includes different social forces and represents contradictions deriving from Bahraini late-coming capitalist formation under British colonialism. Then, the struggle continues to impact the ideological development of Arab nationalism and its interplay with Bahrain’s regional policy. The thesis also further argues, in a Gramscian sense, that the struggle is the conflict between hegemonic and counter-hegemonic forces, which is unsolved after an interrupted process of ‘historical restoration’ between 1971 and 1975. As a consequence, the Al Khalifa regime in Bahrain as an incomplete hegemony faces a dilemma of making its open alignment with the US. Nonetheless, in the second half of the 1970s and early 1980s, a series of extended regional issues occur, including the Arab cause, the Iranian revolution in 1979 and the Iran-Iraq war in 1980. The ways in which the Al Khalifa responds to these issues reflects the dynamic ideological ties between Arab nationalism and Bahrain’s regional policy and paves the road to Bahrain’s participation in the GCC in 1981. Through an integration of the Bahraini case with a Gramscian framework proposed in this thesis, the thesis offers a more complex account than the existing literature on international relations of the Gulf and contributes to historical sociology of IRME in general.


  • 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 State-Society Relations in Historical Sociology,' paper presented at the International Studies Association's annual convention, New Orleans, February 2015.

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 (2015-2017)
  • 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)

Memberships and Other Activities

  • Member of International Relations Research Group, Edinburgh University
  • Member of Foreign Policy Analysis and Role Research Group, Edinburgh University.
  • 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