Witnessing
Testimonial knowledge as ongoing memory transmission
in Legacies of the Magdalen Laundries
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Since the High Park mass grave scandal (1993) – where 155 bodies of ‘Magdalen women’ were exhumed than secretly cremated and reinterred – multiple art projects, journalistic investigations, and human rights reports have represented the Magdalen Laundries. Little documentation has been made publicly available to fully comprehend the extend of the ‘architecture of containment’ (Smith, 2007) that confined, abused, and forced thousands of girls and women to labour between the eighteenth and the twentieth centuries. The only research team (McAleese, 2013) to be granted access to the archives of four religious orders that ran laundries, is today criticised for disbelieving the testimony given by survivors of the laundries. Interested in the contemporary struggles for justice and redress of laundry survivors and their allies, this chapter shows how ‘testimonial knowledge’ (Lackey, 1999) – the knowledge transferred or transmitted via testimony – not only reflects sustained social inequalities, but enables political accountability by reconstructing narratives and preserving them for future generations. To deepen the role of witnessing in producing testimonial knowledge and the transmission of memory, we examine an oral history project and a documentary film that allow untold/unheard stories to highlight survivors’ credibility and their ability to create meaning over conflicting representations of the past.

Legacies of the Magdalen Laundries

Commemoration, gender, and the postcolonial carceral state

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