“They Never Went Looking for War”: Three Understandings of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement
Keywords:Northern Ireland Conflict, Structuralist History, Agential History, Historical Narratives
This article argues that it is possible to distinguish between a narrative understanding that frames the historical outbreak of the Northern Irish conflict in either structuralist or agential terms. Both of these discursive starting points are fraught with political implications: the former suggests that in the absence of (continuing) fundamental transformation(s) some of the causes of the conflict remain – and may return; the latter suggests that conflict through the proxy of History is overdetermined and that the focus on abstract narratives obscures the choices and omissions that allowed the violence to persist for so long. The article is interested less in the historical verifiability of the structuralist or agential claims than in how those problematics are reflected in the secondary literature. As such, I map two versions of the structuralist narrative – a stronger and a weaker case – and describe an alternative, agential perspective. The paper concludes with an outline of how attention to personal histories and memoirs may provide new ways of incorporating (and troubling) both approaches.