Degree Type

Honors Capstone Project

Date of Submission

Spring 5-1-2012

Capstone Advisor

Gavan Duffy

Capstone Major

Political Science

Capstone College

Citizenship and Public Affairs

Audio/Visual Component


Capstone Prize Winner


Won Capstone Funding


Honors Categories

Social Sciences

Subject Categories

Comparative Politics | Other Political Science | Political Science


This paper looks to answer the question: Can the contentious politics thesis of Doug McAdam, Sidney Tarrow, and Charles Tilly explain why the Good Friday Agreement (1998) (GFA) successfully produced a lasting peace in Northern Ireland, when the Sunningdale (1973) and the Anglo-Irish (1985) agreements failed to do so? I set out to study the buildup and aftermath of each agreement and subsequently examine each through the lens of the contentious politics thesis, searching for causal mechanisms and processes that explain the success of the GFA. The purpose of the contentious politics thesis is not to examine various forms of contention (i.e. coups, civil wars, revolutions) one by one and make broad generalizations for each of them. Quite the opposite; the goal is to “identify parallels in the ways that apparently disparate forms of contention work, and show how their differences result from varying combinations and sequences of mechanisms in contrasting regime environments” (Tilly & Tarrow, 2007). In place of the “static, single-actor models (including their own) that have prevailed in the field of contentious politics,” McAdam, Tarrrow, and Tilly identify causal mechanisms and processes that recur across a wide-range of contentious politics and “shift the focus of analysis to dynamic interaction.”

The main method I used for this work was researching books and articles written on the subject. This includes primary source documents, in particular the memoirs of people participating in the events discussed and newspaper articles published at the time. The books and articles generally fell into two categories: the historical record and material related to the contentious politics thesis. McAdam, Tilly, and Tarrow’s Dynamics of Contention and Tilly and Tarrow’s Contentious Politics were essential for the identification of the causal mechanisms and processes. Paul Dixon’s Northern Ireland: The Politics of War and Peace provided me with a highly accessible and detailed history of the “Troubles.” With the large amount of information available on Northern Ireland, combined with the works of McAdam, Tilly, and Tarrow, research was the best and most appropriate method for completing my Capstone Project.

I argue that the contentious politics thesis furthers our understanding of the triumphs and failures of each agreement and helps explain why it took three decades to broker a lasting peace. As I demonstrate, recognizing the causal mechanisms and processes improves our comprehension of how each agreement came into existence and why the GFA was the only one to experience long-term success. The object shift by the nationalist community, the co-optation of Sinn Féin into the peace talks, and the identity shift by the Republic of Ireland are some examples of the causal mechanisms and processes that distinguished the GFA from Sunningdale and the Anglo-Irish Agreement. I also apply the thesis to the Bosnian War (1992-95) to exemplify how it allows us to identify causal mechanisms and processes in both Bosnia and Northern Ireland and subsequently critically compare the two dissimilar conflicts.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.



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