I'm trying to understand both the extension/inclusion of these sets towards each other, as well as the causal relationship between these two, and I'm trying to understand both what Foucault originally devised as the concept of the apparatus, and what Agamben interpreted it as, or expanded it into.

First of all, my assumption is that apparatus and dispositif are the same, and when I use the term "apparatus" in my question, I do that under the assumption that whatever answer I get will apply to the same thing as is called a "dispositif". If that assumption isn't correct, please correct me, and if the answer to my question is different for "apparatus" from the answer for "dispositif", I'd appreciate answers for both terms.

For Foucault's original idea of the apparatus, I am wondering if they form a subset of what we ordinarily call "technologies", whether they intersect with technologies, but also include elements outside of the set of technologies, or whether they are disjunct from technologies.

The question of the apparatus/technology distinction becomes more pressing with Agamben. Quoth Agamben's What is an Apparatus:

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.

At the point of him mentioning navigation, computers, cellphones, cigarettes and agriculture, I'm at a loss to distinguish the apparatus from technologies at all. Is there something that qualifies, say, agriculture as an apparatus, but does not apply to hunting or fishing? Is there something that qualifies cellphones but not microwaves? Wouldn't Agamben's apparatus concept include every human technology? What's the distinction here, does Agamben's apparatus concept include, but transcend, technology?

Two more questions that come up on consideration,

First: Quoth Foucault, Confessions of the Flesh:

The apparatus itself is the system of relations that can be established between these elements.

(The elements being "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".) So Foucault's apparatus is a system of relations, but Agamben's apparatuses are not systems of relations between elements, but the elements themselves? Is that a correct understanding?

Second: For Agamben, I'm assuming what he means when he talks about computers, cellphones, etc, as apparatuses, he does not mean the physical objects, but the technology/knowledge of how to produce them? Is that a correct understanding?

  • what does Agamben not include in their definition of "apparatus"? At first sight, I thought he would not include "natural" things, but even "natural" things can "capture, orient, determine, intercept, model, control or secure the gestures, behaviors, opinions, or discourses of living beings". Does an "apparatus" need to be a "non-living" thing?
    – Frank
    Jan 1, 2023 at 18:51


You must log in to answer this question.

Browse other questions tagged .