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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, nationalism and capitalism, China's Middle Eastern policy


MRes, 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


Hsinyen was born and raised in Taiwan. Before his MRes (2013) and PhD (2018) in Politics and International Relations at Edinburgh, he completed his BA in Arabic at National Cheng-Chi University (2007) and MA in Political Science at National Chung-Cheng University (2010), Taiwan. His research interests mainly lie at the intersection of historical sociology and international relations, especially with the focus on nationalism of late-developing capitalist states and its interplay with state-society relations, foreign policy and more broadly regional politics through the lens of international social theory. These interests relate specifically to two areas- the Middle East (the Gulf) and East Asia (China).  

PhD Project

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

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

Current Projects

Extending the theoretical and empirical findings in his doctoral research, Hsinyen is now preparing a number of postdoctoral research projects:

1) The Encounter of Historical Sociology (HS) and Foreign Policy Analysis (FPA) in the Middle East

2) Authoritarian Alignment in Motion: China and the Gulf  Arab States in the Neoliberal Age

3) Fred Halliday and His Legacies: The Origin and Process of Critical Knowledge Production of International Relations of the Middle East


  • Hsinyen Lai, 'New Left and the Gulf Committee: Legacy and Reflection on Studies of International Relations of the Gulf within and without Heartland', presenting at Gulf Conference, Exeter, July 2018.
  • Hsinyen Lai, 'Gramsci and Arab Nationalism: the 1973 Parliamentary Experiment in Bahrain as an Interrupted Passive Revolution', presenting at BRISMES Conference, London, June 2018.
  • 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


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

Teaching Experience

  • Tutor,  'Politics of the Middle East' for 3rd and 4th year UG students, University of Edinburgh (Spring 2017)
  • Tutor, 'Egypt: Political Dynamics in a Changing Middle East' for 3rd and 4th year UG students, University of Edinburgh (Spring 2015)
  • Contributor, 'Theory and Practice' for MRes and PhD students, University of Edinburgh (5 October 2015 and 3 October 2016) 

Memberships and Other Activities

  • Member, British Society for Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES)  
  • Member, International Relations Research Group, Edinburgh University
  • Member, Foreign Policy Analysis and Role Research Group, Centre of Security Research, 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, Cross-Party Group on Taiwan, Scottish Parliament (March 2014- June 2018)