Although early planar fabrics are commonly preserved within microlithons in low-grade pelites, in higher-grade (amphibolite facies) pelitic schists fabric regeneration often appears complete. Evidence for early fabrics may be preserved within porphyroblasts but, within the matrix, later deformation often appears to totally obliterate or reorient earlier fabrics. However, examination of several hundred Dalradian pelites from Connemara, western Ireland, reveals that preservation of early fabrics is by no means uncommon; relict matrix domains, although volumetrically insignificant, are remarkably persistent even when inferred later strains are very large and fabric regeneration appears, at first sight, complete. Deterministic plasticity theories are ill-suited to the analysis of such an inhomogeneous material response, and a probabilistic model is proposed instead. It assumes that ductile polycrystal deformation is controlled by elementary flow units which can be activated once their associated stress barrier is overcome. Bulk flow propensity is related to the proportion of simultaneous activations, and a measure of this is derived from the probabilistic interaction between a stress-barrier spectrum and an internal stress spectrum (the latter determined by the external loading and the details of internal stress transfer). The spectra are modelled as Gaussian distributions although the treatment is very general and could be adapted for other distributions. Using the time rate of change of activation probability it is predicted that, initially, fabric development will be rapid but will then slow down dramatically even though stress increases at a constant rate. This highly non-linear response suggests that early fabrics persist because they comprise unfavourable distributions of stress-barriers which remain unregenerated at the time bulk stress is stabilized by steady-state flow. Relict domains will, however, bear the highest stress and are potential upper-bound palaeostress estimators. Some factors relevant to the micromechanical explanation of relict matrix domains are discussed. ?? 1984.