Understanding and evaluating the implementation of complex interventions in practice is an important problem for healthcare managers and policy makers, and for patients and others who must operationalize them beyond formal clinical settings. It has been argued that this work should be founded on theory that provides a foundation for understanding, designing, predicting, and evaluating dynamic implementation processes. This paper sets out core constituents of a general theory of implementation, building on Normalization Process Theory and linking it to key constructs from recent work in sociology and psychology. These are informed by ideas about agency and its expression within social systems and fields, social and cognitive mechanisms, and collective action. This approach unites a number of contending perspectives in a way that makes possible a more comprehensive explanation of the implementation and embedding of new ways of thinking, enacting and organizing practice.