De*vice” (?), n.

1. That which is devised, or formed by design; a contrivance; an invention; a project; a scheme; often, a scheme to deceive; a stratagem; an artifice.

His device in against Babylon, to destroy it. Jer. li. 11.

2. Power of devising; invention; contrivance.

I must have instruments of my own device. Landor.

3. (a) An emblematic design, generally consisting of one or more figures with a motto, used apart from heraldic bearings to denote the historical situation, the ambition, or the desire of the person adopting it. See Cognizance. (b) Improperly, an heraldic bearing.

A banner with this strange device – Excelsior. Longfellow.

4. Anything fancifully conceived. Shak.

5. A spectacle or show. [Obs.] Beau. & Fl.

6. Opinion; decision. [Obs.] Rom. of R. Syn. — Contrivance; invention; design; scheme; project; stratagem; shift. — Device, Contrivance. Device implies more of inventive power, and contrivance more of skill and dexterity in execution. A device usually has reference to something worked out for exhibition or show; a contrivance usually respects the arrangement or disposition of things with reference to securing some end. Devices were worn by knights-errant on their shields; contrivances are generally used to promote the practical convenience of life. The word device is often used in a bad sense; as, a crafty device; contrivance is almost always used in a good sense; as, a useful contrivance.

Webster’s Unabridged, 1913

In a 1977 interview, Michel Foucault gave a definition of one of his key concepts: the device (dispositif). His discussion, though highly abstract, reads like a cartographer’s key to our just-in-time society. The device is the “system of relations” that knits together a set of seemingly unrelated elements: “a thoroughly heterogeneous ensemble consisting of discourses, institutions, architectural forms, regulatory decisions, laws, administrative measures, scientific statements, philosophical, moral and philanthropic propositions.” It is a “formation which has as its major function at a given historical moment that of responding to an urgent need.” Yet beyond this urgency, the device is constructed to sustain both “a process of functional overdetermination” and “a perpetual process of strategic elaboration.” Finally, Foucault notes that “in trying to identify a device, I look for the elements which participate in a rationality, a given form of co-ordination [une concertation donnée].” The aim is to grasp the operations of a ruling idea within an interlocking series of social forms.

Brian Holmes

I shall call a device 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, mad houses, the panopticon, schools, confession, factories, disci­plines, juridical 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 devices – 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.

Giorgio Agamben, What is an Apparatus?

But what is a device? In the first instance it is a tangle, a multilinear ensemble. It is composed of lines, each having a different nature. And the lines in the device do not outline or surround systems which are each heterogeneous in their own right, object, subject, language, and so on, but follow directions, trace balances which are always off balance, now drawing together and then distancing themselves from one another. Each line is broken and subject to changes in direction, bifurcating and forked, and subject to drifting…. Untangling these lines within a social device is, in each case, like drawing up a map, doing cartography, surveying unknown landscapes, and this is what [Foucault] calls “working on the ground.”

Gilles Deleuze, What is a dispositif?

Nice, nice, very nice –

So many people in the same device.

Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle

Note: In all the texts related to Foucault’s concept of “dispositif,” I’ve used the word device rather than apparatus. – BH