Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries and the Psychological Architecture of Surveillance

  • Jennifer O’MahoneyEmail author
  • Lorraine Bowman Grieve
  • Alison Torn


Just as the mental asylum was at one time perceived as the panacea for the mentally ill (Brown T, Archiveria 10: Arch Med, Summer 99–124, 1980), so too were the Magdalene Laundries of Ireland seen as the solution to the problems of “loose morality and deviant behaviour of young women”. This chapter will use the site of a former Magdalene Laundry in Waterford as a case study to consider both the psychological architecture of surveillance and how the physical site operated to enforce a sense of containment. Taking a psychological approach, this chapter will frame the Magdalene Laundry as a cultural phenomenon, and consider how the performativity of gender is framed and manipulated by the constant surveillance of the Religious Orders within the physical site of the Laundry, whereby it is theorized that even subtle cues of surveillance can impact behaviour (Bourrat P et al, Evol Psychol 9:193–199, 2011). This analysis will be further contextualized within the frame of Foucault’s (Discipline and punish: the birth of the prison. Penguin Books, New York, 1979, Psychiatric power: lectures at the College De France 1973–1974 (trans: Burchell G). Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2006) discussions on the enactment of disciplinary power through architecture and Bentham’s principle of Panopticon order.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jennifer O’Mahoney
    • 1
    Email author
  • Lorraine Bowman Grieve
    • 1
  • Alison Torn
    • 2
  1. 1.Waterford Institute of TechnologyWaterfordIreland
  2. 2.Leeds Trinity UniversityLeedsUK

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