What is a Dispositif?

Kai Eriksson

Posted on March 12 2018

In the page of our short sleeve t-shirt Dispositif, we said that the inspiration for this design came from Michel Foucault. What does the term dispositif mean and why we think this is important? Let me give a shortish account.

 

Foucault—following Friedrich Nietzsche—is the thinker who has perhaps most consistently claimed that the history of truth cannot be disentangled from the history of power.

 

According to him, the question of power was traditionally formulated either in juridical terms or in terms of the state apparatus.

 

By contrast, Foucault sought to investigate the fine structuration of power around and through scientific knowledge and institutional practices.

 

 

Foucault and DISPOSITIF

 

By means of what he termed a dispositif, Foucault could articulate power that does not manifest itself as an institution.

 

Rather, it is a continuously functioning net of different social forces and discourses: “Power is employed and exercised through a net-like organization,” Foucault claims.

 

Dispositif named this network of power. Foucault defined the term 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.

 

Secondly, what I am trying to identify in this apparatus is precisely the nature of the connection that can exist between these heterogeneous elements.

 

Thirdly, I understand by the term apparatus [dispositif] 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.

 

Dispositif is a network of relationships that, in a given historical period, organizes the field of power and knowledge.

 

This concept enables one to analyze institutions, practices, and discourses in terms of their historical interrelationships. It shows the way in which they shape each other.

 

For this reason, the network enables articulation of relationships, not in terms of essences or structures, but rather in terms of flows, alliances, and detachments.

 

 

A power network, strictly speaking, is not an area, principle, or a level of analysis.

 

It is rather a texture of mutual relationships among institutions, practices, and sentiments, which are interwoven in a particular historical system and its discourses.

 

While they endlessly escape the functionality imposed on them from outside, power networks constantly introduce meaning structures through which they are perceived.

 

Similarly, whereas various social processes produce and institutionalize power as a system, the formation of this system and the practices it gives rise to constantly reorganize the contexts of power and knowledge.

 

It is this mutual relationship that is posed as a problem by Foucault.

 

Although the dispositif is nothing other than the sum of the relations involved, in practice Foucault approaches these relations through a rather consistent body of ideas and practices.

 

 

So, why is this important

 

One may mistakenly think that the constitutive perspective is lost because the philosophical dimension is brought with the changeable confrontations and practices of life.

 

Rather, now we may notice that not only the central institutions, the work of great thinkers, or established academic or social conceptions can be interpreted from the philosophical perspective.

 

In fact, philosophy is connected to all that which has a manifestation. It is no longer about revealing a deep, concealed sphere of the truth, but about affirming existence as it is.

 

This, we think, is a magnificent achievement! 

 

 

Read more: http://foucault-infographics.diiple.com

 

 

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