States of denial : Magdalene Laundries in twentieth century Ireland

Brangan, Louise (2024) States of denial : Magdalene Laundries in twentieth century Ireland. Punishment and Society, 26 (2). pp. 394-413. ISSN 1462-4745 (

[thumbnail of Brangan-PS-2023-States-of-denial-Magdalene-laundries]
Text. Filename: Brangan-PS-2023-States-of-denial-Magdalene-laundries.pdf
Final Published Version
License: Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 logo

Download (299kB)| Preview


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. This paper suggests that Magdalene Laundries were far worse than the prison. 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. The article is based on 33 oral history interviews with women who survived Magdalene Laundries and archival research regarding the nuns and religious, who ran these institutions. 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, self-denial and moral purity.