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Politics and International Relations (PIR): People


Hsinyen Lai

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


MSc(R), Politics (University of Edinburgh)

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

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

PhD Project

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

My research interests mainly lie at the intersection of historical sociology and international relations of the Middle East, especially with the focus on the role of ideology and its (re)production in foreign policy as consequence of 'the international' social formation.

My PhD project investigates how Bahrain's foreign policy toward its alignment was shaped along with the development of Arabism after Bahrain's political independence in 1971.  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, i.e. identity, 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. It could be seen as modern ideology related to social formation cut across the domestic, regional and international level, and represents the social struggle between popular movements and the regime. While this social struggle revolves around a contested notion of sovereignty,  it nonetheless creates different alternatives of alignments and has influences on Arabism.

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 and Marxist-Leninist revolutions in Dhofar. While Bahrain attained 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 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 regime and 'the people' remained. As result,  as a non-hegemonic state of Bahrain, the regime failed to derive an ideological power from society for making state foreign policy toward alignments. In a dilemma of making its alignment with the US, the regime was then outsourcing ideological power to other international state and non-state actors. This course then created different alignment alternatives for the regime. Also, it brought about the effect of reproducing the notion of Arabism in Bahrain's foreign policy, which was confirmed by Iranian revolution in 1979 and paving the road to Bahrain's participation in the GCC. This historical process of social formation of Arabism in Bahrain's foreign policy is what I call 'ideological fix'.


Dr Ewan Stein and Professor Juliet Kaarbo

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 Univeristy, Taiwan (Spring 2012)
  • Teahcing assistant,  'Modern History of International Politics', National Chung-Cheng Univeristy, Taiwan (Fall 2007/ Spring 2008)
  • Teaching assistant, 'Theories of International Relations', National Chung-Cheng Univeristy, Taiwan (Fall 2007/ Spring 2008) 

Memberships and Other Activisties

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