States of Denial: Magdalene Laundries in Twentieth Century Ireland

Event date
9 November 2023
Event time
15:30 - 17:00
Oxford week
MT 5
Wharton Room - All Souls College (and online)

Louise Brangan, University of Strathclyde

Notes & Changes


Please note: this event will be hybrid but will not be recorded. 

Registration closes at midday on Wednesday 10th November. The Teams link will be sent to you that afternoon.


On the first day at a Magdalene Laundry, women and girls who had been sent there had their hair cut off, their names replaced, and their possessions taken. In the days and weeks that followed, everything else was stripped from them. How do we make sense of this carceral regime? The new conceived wisdom is to describe Magdalene Laundries as places of containment and confinement, as tantamount to prisons. In this seminar I will suggest that Magdalene Laundries were far worse than the prison and that we need a more accurate way to describe them. I argue that rather than discuss Magdalene Laundries as sites of confinement, we should instead understand them as sites of erasure. That is because the pains of this form of detention were drawn not from the loss of liberty, but the loss of self 

We also learn that Magdalene Laundries were important social institutions that open a window onto Irish life in the twentieth century. Magdalene Laundries operated with an undiluted formula that all Irish citizens were expected to subscribe to: a culture of conformity that prided obedience, chastity, self-denial and moral purity.

The presentation is based on newspaper and governmental archives, 33 oral history interviews with women who survived Magdalene Laundries, and archival research regarding the nuns and religious, who ran these institutions. 


Louise Brangan is a Chancellor's Fellow and Senior Lecturer at the University of Strathclyde. Her research interests focus on the sociology of punishment, particularly comparative and historical study of penal cultures and penal politics. She has written on the contemporary history of punishment in Ireland and Scotland and is currently undertaking an ESRC funded study of Magdalene Laundries. In 2023, she was named as one of the BBC/AHRC’s New Generation Thinkers, who are ‘ten of the UK’s most promising arts and humanities early career researchers’.

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