Definition of Apparatus / Dispositif

What is Apparatus / Dispositif?

What we sense, feel, and know is not the outcome of an ahistorical human nature. Rather it is the outcome of an integrated system of practices. This is what Foucault called a “dispositif” in French and is commonly translated as “apparatus”:

"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."  
~ Michel Foucault

An apparatus in this sense is a system that has the capacity to capture the historical practices of a community and transformatively shape/create these practices in a different enactive manner. Foucault’s concept has been productively used to understand organizational situations, and business ecosystems as well as address political questions. The philosopher Georgio Agamben usefully extends the definition in more enactive directions:

"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.  … 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." 
~ Georgio Agamben

Our “God model” of creativity is best understood as a specific historical example of an apparatus – it is more than just an idea or a conceptual process – it literally consists of “discourses, institutions, architectural forms, regulatory decisions,” etc.  Organizations interested in developing creative practices need to put far more attention towards ecosystemic questions – architecture, organizational logics, infrastructure, practices, tools, rituals, etc. and far less towards the usual suspects of mindsets, beliefs, and individuals.

Further Reading on Apparatus / Dispositif

on What Is Innovation, and How to Innovate

Delivered Every Friday