Strathclyde researcher joins BBC and AHRC’s New Generation Thinkers

A researcher at the University of Strathclyde has been chosen as one of the BBC and the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s (AHRC) New Generation Thinkers.

Dr Louise Brangan, of Strathclyde’s School of Social Work & Social Policy, is among 10 of the UK’s most promising arts and humanities early career researchers to have been announced as part of the group, which represents some of the brightest early career researchers in the country.

The researchers were introduced on BBC Radio 3’s Free Thinking and were interviewed on the themes of their research. Dr Brangan’s work is focused on the history of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries and how the nation is today coming to terms with it.

Along with her fellow New Generation Thinkers, she will be working on episodes of Radio 3’s The Essay, to be broadcast next spring.

As a sociologist of punishment, Dr Brangan is interested in how we punish and who we punish. In her book on the history of prisons, The Politics of Punishment, she explores how our penal systems draw the boundary lines between social insiders and outsiders, showing that prisons are a vital part of the sociological architecture that helps shape our everyday order.

Her episode of The Essay will trace the changing place of Magdalene Laundries in Ireland and the treatment of women held there, illuminating the transformation of Ireland in the twentieth century.

Dr Brangan said on Free Thinking: “Many of the women who ended up in the Magdalene asylums were themselves born illegitimate, they were born outside marriage. They spent the best part of their youth and their adulthood moving through these institutions, but families also sent their daughters there if they were displaying signs of the usual teenage waywardness.

“Also, Ireland had no prison system, so women were being sent there by the criminal justice system, by courts, by social workers, by probation workers…in Ireland, it’s estimated that 1% of its population in the 1950s were confined in asylums, mother and baby homes, Magdalene Laundries, prisons, industrial schools.

“(The Magdalene Laundries) were abolished, they’re in the past, so we can feel, at least, we have moved on, but of course the way in which women’s prisons operate now…we speak to prison officers who work in women’s prisons and they’ll say: these women aren’t real criminals.

“These women have committed crimes related to poverty or to desperation, so women who have fallen outside the mainstream, and the way you speak about women’s prisons really differs from the way you speak about men’s prisons. These are places to help women, to care for women, these are hardly like a prison at all. So in some ways, we have allowed ourselves to feel that at least we have moved on from the past but my own curiosity is how much those penal sensibilities that held the Magdalene Laundries in place have really been eradicated, how much have they really evolved to become more palatable in our contemporary times.”

BBC Radio 3 Head of Speech Matthew Dodd said: “Radio 3 is delighted to join our colleagues at AHRC in celebrating this year’s New Generation Thinkers intake. The research these academics present is key to understanding our past and present, offering new perspectives on the exploration of human history and culture.

” Their inspiring and stimulating ideas on such a wide variety of topics deserve to be heard by a non-specialist audience, and we are pleased to be able to give these fascinating minds a platform to bring their work to as many listeners as possible.”

Professor Christopher Smith, Executive Chair of AHRC, which is part of UKRI, said: “The New Generation Thinkers programme brings interesting, important ideas to a wider audience, shaping public thought and discussion…this is research at its most original, vital and compelling.

“These 10 brilliant, original thinkers demonstrate the potential for the arts and humanities to help us to better understand ourselves, our past, our present and our future.”