- Hsinyen Lai
- Politics and International Relations School of Social and Political Science University of Edinburgh
- 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 with major in International Relations (National Chung-Cheng University, Taiwan)
BA, Arabic Language and Literature (National Cheng-Chi University, Taiwan)
The Social Formation of Arab Nationalism around Alignments: Gramsci on the Case of Bahrain's Alignments 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 tries to explain the relationship between Arab nationalism and foreign policy through the case of Bahrain's alignments between 1971 and 1981. In doing so, this project mainly addresses why Bahraini foreign policy toward the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was made and how Arab nationalism played its role around this alignment decision. 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 the ideological development of Arab nationalism and its influence on foreign policy reflected the social struggle between hegemony and counter-hegemony across the national, regional and international level. Such struggle included different forces as a legacy of contradictions from the British colonial era and early capitalist social formation. It pushed a process, intertwined with historical conditions and contingencies, that revolved around the contested notion of sovereignty in Bahrain and interrelated with the geopolitical competition and capitalist formation at the regional and international level. Eventually, this historical process led to the formulation of Bahrain's policy toward alignment.
For the case of Bahrain, Arab nationalism relating to popular movements had emerged with the advent of Bahrain's modernisation process motivated by British colonialism since the 1920s. In the late 1960s, it was then ideologically influenced by the rise of the Arab New Left movement in the Middle East, the Marxist-Leninist revolutions in Arabia and more broadly the international anti-imperialist manifesto. While Bahrain achieved its formal 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 attempt an integral state of Bahrain, in a Gramscian sense, with the support of the emergence of new capitalist classes in the Gulf. If successful, it would help the Al Khalifa weather the regional revolutions by ideologically linking itself to 'civil society' through newly formed middle-classes. However, under the pressure of geopolitical competition and capitalist formation, this process was interrupted. The struggle among different social forces was unsolved, and an ideological disconnection between the Al Khalifa and civil society remained. As consequence, the Al Khalifa as an incomplete hegemony failed to organise a 'national-popular collective will' around state foreign policy toward alignments in a dilemma of making its open alignment with the US. In the second half of the 1970s and early 1980s, a series of extended events created different alignment alternatives for the Al Khalifa. The ways in which the Al Khalifa responded to these events had an impact on the role of Arab nationalism in Bahrain's foreign policy, which was later confirmed by the Iranian revolution in 1979 and the Iran-Iraq war in 1980, paving the road to Bahrain's participation in the GCC.
- 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.
- 'Revisit International Relations, revisit the 19th century' (book review of Barry Buzan and George Lawson, The Global Transformation), whogovernstw.org, March 2017 (in Mandarin Chinese).
- 'The Royal Navy returns to the Gulf', udn Global, 7 March 2016 (in Mandarin Chinese).
- 'The Gulf Arab States on the issue of Syrian Refugee', udn Global, 21 October 2015 (in Mandarin Chinese).
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)
- 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 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