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Producing 'decent girls': governmentality and the moral geographies of sexual conduct in Ireland (1922-1937)

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In this article we examine the mode of governmentality constructed in Ireland with regard to the regulation and disciplining of sexuality in the post-independence era up to the writing of the Constitution (1922-1937). Drawing on the writings of Michel Foucault, we document how Ireland became an intense site of applied, national bio-politics with a panoply of government commissions and legislation, accompanied by new sites of reform (Magdalene Asylums and Mother and Baby Homes), which together were designed to mould and police the sexual practices of its citizens and create a sanitised moral landscape. Whilst a thoroughly gendered project, with nearly all legislation and sites of reform targeting women, we contend it was also a highly spatialised endeavour. The modes and practices of governmentality produced a dense spatialised grid of discipline, reform and self-regulation, seeking to produce 'decent' women inhabiting virtuous spaces by limiting access to work and public spaces, confining women to an unsullied (marital) home, and threatening new sites of reformation, emigration or ostracisation.

Keywords: bio-politics; governmentality; places of formation; sexuality

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Geography, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, County Kildare, Ireland

Publication date: 2008-08-01

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