This article investigates the role of agency in the causation of transformative events by looking at the competition between rival strands within social movements. The creative activity involved in the elaboration and execution of rival strategies is used as a proxy for agency. We present a paired comparison of two very different transformative events in twentieth-century Ireland—the Easter Rising of 1916 and the Long March from Belfast to Derry in 1969—and the strategic interactions preceding them. The comparison shows how agency and structure can interact around transformative events. High levels of agency were instrumental in making the events, and in turn these events catalyzed powerful social forces. These forces were structural—that is, they reflected divisions, tensions, and power relations that were deeply engrained in the social structure over the long term. However, these structural forces could have remained dormant had it not been for the bursts of agency that brought about the transformative events in question. We also see in these cases that the balance between structure and agency is dynamic, sometimes shifting from one moment to another rather than remaining constant.

This content is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.