Michel Foucault generally uses the term "dispositif," to refer to the various institutional, physical, and administrative mechanisms and knowledge structures which enhance and maintain the exercise of power within the social body.
Dispositif is translated variously, even in the same book, as 'device', 'machinery', 'apparatus', 'construction', and 'deployment'.
Foucault uses the term in his 1977 “The Confession of the Flesh” interview, where he answers the question, "What is the meaning or methodological function for you of this term, apparatus (dispositif)?" as follows:
- "What I’m trying to pick out with this term is, firstly, a thoroughly heterogeneous 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."
The German linguist Siegfried Jäger defines Foucault's dispositif as
- "the interaction of discursive behavior (i. e. speech and thoughts based upon a shared knowledge pool), non-discursive behavior (i. e. acts based upon knowledge), and manifestations of knowledge by means of acts or behaviors [...]. Dispositifs can thus be imagined as a kind of Gesamtkunstwerk, the complexly interwoven and integrated dispositifs add up in their entirety to a dispositif of all society."
The Italian political philosopher Giorgio Agamben defines apparatus/dispositif as
- "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 also the pen, writing, literature, philosophy, agriculture, cigarettes, navigation, computers, cellular telephones and--why not--language itself, which is perhaps the most ancient of apparatuses--one in which thousands and thousands of years ago a primate inadvertently let himself be captured, probably without realizing the consequences that he was about to face."
Foucault, Michel, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction.
- “The Confession of the Flesh” (1977) interview. In Power/Knowledge Selected Interviews and Other Writings (ed Colin Gordon), 1980: pp. 194–228.
- "What is the dispositive?" Foucault Blog, April 1 2007.
- "das Zusammenspiel diskursiver Praxen (= Sprechen und Denken auf der Grundlage von Wissen), nichtdiskursiver Praxen (= Handeln auf der Grundlage von Wissen) und „Sichtbarkeiten“ bzw. „Vergegenständlichungen“ (von Wissen durch Handeln/Tätigkeit) [...]. Dispositive kann man sich insofern auch als eine Art „Gesamtkunstwerke“ vorstellen, die – vielfältig miteinander verzahnt und verwoben – ein gesamtgesellschaftliches Dispositiv ausmachen.", Siegfried Jäger: Theoretische und methodische Aspekte einer Kritischen Diskurs- und Dispositivanalyse
- Giorgio Agamben, "What is an Apparatus?" in What is an Apparatus? And Other Essays. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009: p. 14.