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School of Social and Political Science: Graduate school


Hsinyen Lai

Hsinyen Lai
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, Gramsci and Marxist Theory, ideas and foreign policy, the Gulf region, 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 ideologies and their (re)production in foreign policy and popular movements as consequence of 'the international' social formation. These interests relate specifically to the cases of late-developing capitalist states in the Middle East and East Asia. 

PhD Project

The Social Formation of Arab Nationalism around Alignments: Gramsci on the Case of Bahrain 1971-1981 

My PhD project tries to revisit 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 what the role of Arab nationalism was 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 can be best understood through 'the other histories of Arab nationalism', which reflected the political struggle between hegemony and counter-hegemony across the national, regional and international scale. Such a struggle included different social forces as a legacy of contradictions from the British colonial era and Bahraini late-coming capitalist formation and evolved along with socio-political dynamics after British withdrawal. While being unsolved in the independence phase, the struggle continued to shape the role of Arab nationalism around foreign policy. 

For the case of Bahrain,  Arab nationalism had emerged with the advent of Bahrain's modernisation process motivated by British colonialism since the 1920s and evolved along with labour and political movements ever since. In the late 1960s, it was then ideologically influenced by the rise of the New Arab Left movement in the Middle East, the Marxist-Leninist revolutions in Arabia and more broadly the international anti-imperialist movements. While Bahrain achieved its formal independence in 1971, a process of historical restoration as passive revolution- the 1973 parliamentary experiment in particular- was initiated by the Al Khalifa regime to attempt an 'integral state' of Bahrain with the support of the emergence of new capitalist classes in the Gulf. In a Gramscian sense, if successful, it would have helped the Al Khalifa weather the regional revolutions by ideologically linking itself to 'civil society' through newly formed 'organic intellectuals'. 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 a 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. Nonetheless, 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 around Bahrain's foreign policy, which interrelated to the Arab cause, the Iranian revolution in 1979  and the Iran-Iraq war in 1980 and paved the road to Bahrain's participation in the GCC in 1981. 


  • 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