What is a Dispositive / a Dispositif / an Apparatus

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Global Dispositives - 全球权力运作机制 - Dispositivos globales - Глобальные диспозитивы 

Глобални диспозитиви - Dispositifs Globaux - Dispositivi globali - Globale Dispositive



What is a Dispositive?


While preparing the conference call, we noticed that people often ask what is actually a dispositive and if there is another word for it. We would like to encourage you to read the following quotes in order to situate your own concept of dispositif / apparatus / dispositive. Also, we would like to invite you to question this term in your contributions, presentations and papers. Furthermore, we will greet any presentation which tries to bring clarity in the matter of terminology. If you are in any way interested in discourse studies, you will most probably have an interest in dealing with apparatuses in some way. Come explore this concept in a non-hierarchical, open and critical way with us.


Please note that we are using different ways of writing the term Dispositif / Dispositive / Apparatus. The reason for that is our wish to show different traditions in its understanding. While the dispositif comes from French original in Foucault's writings, the dispositive has been used a lot in English translations and discourse studies literature. However, at some point researchers started using the French way of writing in order to state the difference from the term rooted in the jurisprudence / law studies. Simultaneously, the term apparatus has also been used since the first translations of Foucault's "History of Sexuality". It has been established as a parallel terminus technicus at least since the translation of Agamben's book of Essays "What is an apparatus?" into English.


Even though the term has been discussed by many researchers, we decided to offer here quotes by Michel Foucault and Giorgio Agamben. 


Michel Foucault:

What I’m trying to pick out with this term is, firstly, a thoroughly heterogenous ensemble consisting of discourses, institutions, architectural forms, regulatory decisions, laws, administrative measures, scientific statements, philosophical, moral and philanthropic propositions–in short, the said as much as the unsaid. Such are the elements of the apparatus. The apparatus itself is the system of relations that can be established between these elements.

Secondly, what I am trying to identify in this apparatus is precisely the nature of the connection that can exist between these heterogenous elements. Thus, a particular discourse can figure at one time as the programme of an institution, and at another it can function as a means of justifying or masking a practice which itself remains silent, or as a secondary re-interpretation of this practice, opening out for it a new field of rationality.

In short, between these elements, whether discursive or non-discursive, there is a sort of interplay of shifts of position and modifications of function which can also vary very widely.

Thirdly, I understand by the term “apparatus” a sort of–shall we say–formation which has as its major function at a given historical moment that of responding to an urgent need. The apparatus thus has a dominant strategic function. This may have been, for example, the assimilation of a floating population found to be burdensome for an essentially mercantilist economy: there was a strategic imperative acting here as the matrix for an apparatus which gradually undertook the control or subjection of madness, sexual illness and neurosis.

“The Confession of the Flesh” (1977) interview. In Power/Knowledge Selected Interviews and Other Writings (ed Colin Gordon), 1980: pp. 194-228.


Giorgio Agamben:

Further expanding the already large class of Foucauldian apparatuses, I shall call an apparatus literally anything that has in some way the capacity to capture orient, determine, intercept, model, control, or secure the gestures, behaviors, opinions, or discourses of living beings. Not only, therefore, prisons, madhouses the panopticon, schools, confession, factories, disciplines, judicial measures, and so forth (whose connection with power is in a certain sense evident), but the pen, writing, literature, philosophy, agriculture, cigarettes, navigation, computers, cellular telephones and—why not—language itself, which is perhaps most ancient of apparatuses—one in which thousands and thousands of years ago a primate inadvertently let himself be captured, probably without realizing consequences that he was about to face.

"What is an Apparatus?" in What is an Apparatus? And Other Essays. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009: p. 14.