Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Davide Panagia, “On the Political Ontology of the Dispositif,” Critical Inquiry 45, no. 3 (Spring 2019): 714-746.

DOI: 10.1086/702613

At an otherwise unnoteworthy moment during his 18 January 1978 lecture at the Collège de France, Michel Foucault stumbles just when he is about to resume his discussion of the “apparatuses of security” (dispositifs de sécurité). In both the English and French edition of the lecture, the interruption is footnoted in the text. Apparently, Foucault had bumped into the microphone of the device recording his lecture. As he recovers and before resuming his discussion he says this: “I am not against any apparatuses [les appareils], but I don’t know—forgive me for saying so—I’m just a bit allergic.” The English doesn’t render what’s notable in the comment because English is unable to mark the lexical shift, given that the translation of dispositif is, conventionally, “apparatus.” There are two (or more) different terms in French, but we tend to only use apparatus in English. But by 1978 Foucault had fully adopted and adapted the language of the dispositif to discuss the technical media of discipline, security, and governmentality, and he had done so—I will argue—by making an explicit political and aesthetic decision to replace the conceptual architecture and term apparatus (appareil) with dispositif. In the following, I reconstruct this shift and its political and aesthetic stakes.


Davide Panagia is a political and cultural theorist and professor of political science at University of California, Los Angeles. His research and teaching focus on aesthetics and politics. Rancière’s Sentiments (2018) is his most recent book

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