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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, 1968-1981

My research interests mainly lies at the intersection of historical sociology and international relations of the Middle East, especially with focus on the role of ideology and its (re)prodution in socio-political movements, revolutions, and foreign policy as conseqeunce of 'the international' social formation.

My PhD project investigates how Bahrain's foreign policy toward its alignment with the Gulf monachies and 'the West' was shaped along with the development of Arabism after Bahrain's political independence in the 1970s.  Drawing on Antonio Gramsci as a theoretical framework for 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 formulation does not ascribe to identity shift alongside the twilgiht of Arabism vis-a-vis the rise of sovereignty norm due to changes in state leaders' intersubjectivity in the international arena. It actually reflects Arabism as modern ideology related to domestic, regional and international socio-political dynamics over time, and represents constantly the contested notion of sovereignty held respectively in popular and sultanistic version of Arabism that underlie the ideological bases for foreign policy.

This contestation of sovereignty had emerged with the advent of Bahrain's modernisation process thrusted by British colonialism. Since late 1960s, it was then ideologically influenced by Marxist-Leninist revolutions in the Gulf, and seen by the Gulf New Arab Left as 'historical backwardness' as imperialist legacy rooted in the nature of state-society relations. While Bahrain achieved its political independence in 1971, a process of historical reconstruction as 'passive revolution'- the 1973 parliamentary experiment- was initiated by the regime to forge an integral state of Bahrain and weather the regional revolution by ideologically linking itself to 'society'. However, under the pressure of the regional reactionary forces, this process was interrupted, the contestation on sovereignty was unsolved, ideological disconnection between 'state' and 'society' remained, and created a non-hegemonic state of Bahrain. In consequene, instead of seeking coalescence of popular and sultanistic Arabist ideology from within for Bahrain's foreign policy, the Al Khalifa regime outsourced ideological power for its decision on alignment. This 'ideological outsourcing' was confirmed by Iranian Revolution, and paving the way for Bahrain's participation in the GCC and more broadly the West -led security pact in the Gulf since then. 


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