I've been reading up on Heidegger's Concept of Technology but for the life of me I can't quite grasp the idea of Gestell, would anyone care to explain in simple terms what he means by Gestell (enframing) please? I've read some research papers with the authors trying to explain it but the way they explained the concept it's still a little to abstract for me. Thanks :)

  • Can it be identical to the notion of habitus in Bourdieu? Commented Jul 15, 2020 at 8:49

5 Answers 5


It's not just you

First of all, any difficult you face in understanding what Heidegger meant is more likely Heidegger's fault than yours. He is an infamously unclear writer.

Gestell in ordinary German means a physical framework, frame, structure, chassis, rack, stand, trestle, etc. But Heidegger is obviously not using the ordinary meaning of the word.

Heidegger's translators sometimes translate Gestell as "enframing" (a word that is not in any standard English dictionary).

What makes Heidegger's usage of Gestell especially annoying is that he never offers a really clear explanation of exactly what he means. This is the best we get:

"Enframing ['Gestell'] means the gathering together of that setting-upon which sets upon man, i.e., challenges him forth, to reveal the real, in the mode of ordering, as standing-reserve. Enframing means that way of revealing which holds sway in the essence of modern technology and which is itself nothing technological." ("Question Concerning Technology") [1]

Not super clear.

It's tough to find scholarly work that offers a clear and convincing explanation of what Heidegger meant. A lot of the articles written on the subject are almost as obscure as Heidegger's original writings.

How to interpret Gestell

An author of an entry about Heidegger's aesthetics in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy wrote that Gestell is the "name for the technological understanding of being that underlies and shapes our contemporary age." [2] This is a good start.

Heidegger expressed concern that people in the modern world were thinking about ourselves, other people and nature in general as things to be used (and used as efficiently as possible). He didn't like the way people adopted similar mindsets when using a machine and interacting with a person or nature. "Enframing" is best understood as that way of thinking about and engaging with the world.

You might say that the naming of "human resource" department at your company or the "natural resource" agency of your government is a result of enframing (i.e. viewing people and nature as resources to be used).

EDIT: I should clarify that the sort of technological enframing described above is only one type of enframing. You can interpret "Gestell" not just as the specific way of thinking I described, which Heidegger thought was inauthentic, but also more generally as any way of structuring our experience, attitudes, values, and manner of engagement with the world.

[1] Heidegger, Martin. 1977. Basic writings. Ed. David Ferrell Krell. New York: Harper. Page 302. [2] Thomson, Iain, "Heidegger's Aesthetics", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2015/entries/heidegger-aesthetics/.

  • I'm not sure that Gestell must always be inauthentic. I take Heidegger to view it as a necessary feature of human thinking. At the same time, any Gestell that isn't being-towards-death or being-before-Being (which is the same) is going to be inauthentic.
    – virmaior
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 1:20
  • 1
    Virmaior: I actually am inclined to agree, for the most part. Heidegger definitely seems to view enframing as a fundamental feature of human thinking. And this makes sense on the minimalist interpretation of "Gestell" -- i.e. any way of structuring experiences, attitudes, and values. On this definition of enframing, a non-enframed outlook will be hard to come by. We can't help but use some way of structuring our experiences, attitudes, and values.
    – JesseG
    Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 6:00

I understand by the term Gestell in Heidegger the framing of our world. I take it to be a protean reference to hermeneutics as the idea that we have "horizons." To word it another, Gestell is Heidegger's way of saying the Kantian point that we have no epistemic access to the thing in itself.

One thing that is confusing is that in the "question concerning technology," Heidegger mentions Gestell in a negative light as the thing that frames our experience and orients it towards the technological. But it's important to see it as doing more. I would say technology is one Gestell, but there can be others.

For Heidegger any framing that is different from our authentic frame (being towards our own death, i.e. the question of being) is going to prove negative. But in the later Heidegger, we might say it is necessary.

The fourfold is also a (en)framing for him and thus a Gestell.

The nature of our beings is that we need something to organize experience.

  • What's the 'four-fold' for Heidegger? I don't suppose it has any connection to Schopenhauers use of it - I think he used it as in Aristotles division of causes. Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 6:27
  • I haven't read it, but the picture seems right: equivalentexchange.wordpress.com/2010/05/04/…
    – virmaior
    Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 6:46

By comparison with what's said in Deleuze & Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus about the State or Apparatus of Capture, I would suggest the heuristic & practical-oriented use of the following definition:

Gestell: the built system of thought channelling human actions - a flow’s forced movement & direction via a conduit as opposed to its clinamen (aleatory encounter & turbulent self-complexifying) - compulsory labor not free action.


My simple interpretation is this. Gestell, translated as Together-Forced-Ness behaves as if it were a Spritual Being interacting with human individuals.

Remember some 20 years ago when cellphones were appearing? People said: I'll never get one of those, never needed before, why now? (They even had a derogatory nickname, implying pet for the rich, remember?) Got one now? That is Gestell.

  • 2
    I think this to be not completely wrong, but not getting the point: Gestell as the factual circumstances defining the hermeneutical space available by providing the structural necessities (Gestell = structure carrying weight) for a certain understanding of the world and at the same time limiting us to these means of understanding. Therefore, mobiles are part of the Gestell, but the together-forced-ness in Heidegger is one of understanding, not social pressure.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented May 31, 2017 at 15:26

I've been reading up on Heidegger's Concept of Technology but for the life of me I can't quite grasp the idea of Gestell, would anyone care to explain in simple terms what he means by Gestell (enframing) please? I've read some research papers with the authors trying to explain it but the way they explained the concept it's still a little to abstract for me. Thanks :)

The ordinary meaning is that science works in terms of effects. Whereas all human and animal thinking happens in terms of means to an end. One keeps seeing what some effect can cause, storing up all the possible things that can happen as though putting things on the shelf of a storeroom.

So long as we see it in this ordinary way, "ordinary" is a cipher for a kind of captivation by the current average outlook of man as man. We have enough of the explanation as soon as we hear it. Effects? OK, understood, now let's go read the latest ideas of the Speculative Realists--much-more interesting by far! Therefore, in the work called Heidegger, one can not stay with the plain description which, this work says, is deadly to philosophizing.

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