E-Book Access


Staff and students at the University of Westminster now have access to Karen Barad’s Meeting the Universe Halfway as an e-book, available from the library catalogue.


List, Apparatus/Dispositif, Conjuncture: Detournement

DetournementThe question that arises is: to what extent does ‘the list’ displace or replace ‘the apparatus’?
(See Listing, Cataloguing, CollectingTheory of Everything, List, List, O’List; and Apparatus, Dispositif, Material-Discursive Practice)

[Sub-text: such that a field of inquiry becomes ‘academic’]

A related question is: what are the criteria of relevance for inclusion in ‘the list’?

[Sub-text: given that it may harbour an ‘academic’ ‘methodology’]

The issues at stake concern ‘contextualisation’, as an active process, a bringing-together of phenomena, environments and atmospheres in a field of active inter-relation, and indeed generation, and the creation of what can be described as ‘conjunctures’, moments, as fields of events, that are always plural, always differential and may relate through linear or non-linear progression or aleatory succession.

How does ‘apparatus’ relate to ‘conjuncture’, as process of contextualisation?

What is the provenance of ‘conjuncture’? [For example, is it: “The central concept of the Marxist science of politics (cf. Lenin’s ‘current moment’); it denotes the exact balance of forces, state of overdetermination of the contradictions at any given moment to which political tactics must be applied” (Brewster, 1969)?]

Furthermore, how may such processes of contextualisation, whether apparatic or conjunctural, become subject to detournement or diversion (Internationale Situationniste, 1959); or simply change?


Brewster, B. (1969). Althusser Glossary 1969. Marxists Internet Archive. Available at: https://www.marxists.org/glossary/terms/althusser/ [Accessed August 26, 2014].

Internationale Situationniste, (1959). Détournement as negation and prelude [Internationale Situationniste #3]. Situationist International Text Library. Available at: http://library.nothingness.org/articles/SI/en/display/315 [Accessed August 26, 2014].

Apparatus, Dispositif, Material-Discursive Practice


Agamben (2009) proposes that the word dispositif, or “apparatus” in English, is a decisive technical term in the development of Foucault’s thought, as he moves away from using such formulations as episteme, knowledge and discursive formations, preferring instead such terms as apparatuses and disciplines.  Foucault uses apparatus/dispositif increasingly frequently from the mid-1970s onwards, when he begins to discuss ‘governmentality’ and the government of people. Later, Foucault goes on to talk of ‘technologies of the self’ (McHoul, 2009: 201)

Foucault never offers a complete definition of dispositif/apparatus. The closest he comes to doing so is in an interview entitled “The Confession of the Flesh”, Agamben suggests. In this interview, Foucault indicates that an apparatus/dispositif is a heterogeneous set, ensemble or assembly that incorporates virtually anything, such as, as mentioned by Foucault (1980: 194), “discourses, institutions, architectural forms, regulatory decisions, laws, administrative measures, scientific statements, philosophical, moral, and philanthropic propositions”, which are both linguistic, extra-linguistic and non-linguistic, and forms them into a distinctive domain or field. The apparatus/dipositif itself, according to Foucault, is the network or system of relations that can be established among these diverse phenomena.

Furthermore, among these elements, Foucault specifies, there is a kind of interplay of shifts of position and modifications of function which can also vary very widely.

An apparatus is a kind of a formation, then, that, at a given historical moment or particular conjuncture, has, as its major function, the response to a particular urgent need. It has, therefore, a strategic purpose. As such, it emerges at the intersection of power relations and relations of knowledge, as Agamben says, or, in Foucault’s (1980: 196) terms, an apparatus consists in a set of strategies of relations of forces supporting, and supported by, certain types of knowledge.

In other words, a dispositif/apparatus forms a material-discursive practice, crucial for our understanding of the intertwinement of ontology and epistemology at a particular moment. Radomska (2010: 106) notes that Barad mostly draws upon Michel Foucault’s notion of discursive practices and Niels Bohr’s concept of the apparatus, arriving at her own, posthumanist and agential realist formulation of material-discursive practices or apparatuses. She understands discourse in a Foucauldian sense, as that which “constrains or enables what can be said” and what finally is treated, and exists, as a meaningful statement or action.

Other theorists and notions that resonate with Barad’s project, traces of which can be found in it, according to Radomska (2010: 106n), apart from Foucault’s dispositif/apparatus, are Haraway’s apparatuses of bodily production, Latour’s inscription and translation and Butler’s performative.


Agamben, G. (2009). What is an apparatus?, In What is an apparatus? and other essays, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Deleuze, G. (1992). What is a dispositif?, In Michel Foucault, Philosopher: essays translated from the French and German by Timothy J. Armstrong. New York, NY: Routledge, pp. 159–168.

Foucault, M. (1980). The Confession of the flesh. In C. Gordon, ed., Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings. New York, NY: Pantheon, pp. 194–228.

McHoul, A. (2009) Discourse, Foucauldian approach, In Concise encyclopedia of pragmatics, 2nd ed., edited by Jacob L. Mey. London: Elsevier.

Radomska, M. (2010). Towards a posthuman collective: ontology, epistemology and ethics. Praktyka Teoretyczna, (1), pp.93–115. Available at: https://www.academia.edu/513218/Towards_a_Posthuman_Collective_Ontology_Epistemology_and_Ethics

Listing, Cataloguing, Collecting


As noted in Theory of Everything; List, List, O’List, lists are a significant part of contemporary academic writing practices. We may wish to contemplate the significance of the list before remarking upon one in Karen Barad’s (2007) Meeting the Universe Halfway.

According to Umberto Eco (Beyer, Gorris, and Eco, 2009, 11 November),

“The list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible. It also wants to create order — not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one face infinity? How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries.”

Bearing this thought in mind, Barad writes that reading phenomena, such as scanning tunneling microscope (STM) images, and it is worth noting that it is images or pictures that we are talking about here, “allows the frozen images to thaw out and the subject matter to come alive.” (Barad, 2007: 300)

To understand such images, Barad argues, requires a grasp of the practices which go into their making. Thus, she compiles a list of such practices [spaces, indentations and line breaks added by AP]:

“The entangled set of practices that go into the making of these images include:

STM microscopes and practices of microscopy,
the history of microscopy,
scientific and technological advances made possible by scanning tunneling microscopes,
the quantum theory of tunneling,
material sciences,
IBM’s corporate resources and research and development practices,
scientific curiosity and imagination,
scientific and cultural hopes for the manipulability of individual atoms,
Feynman’s dream of nanotechnologies,
cultural iconography,
capitalist modes of producing desires,
the production and public recognition of corporate logos,
the history of the atom,
the assumption of metaphysical individualism,
complex sets of visualizing and reading practices that make such images intelligible as pictures of words and things, and
the intertwined histories of representationalism and scientific practice.” (Barad, 2007: 300)

Barad comments that this is an abbreviated list that barely begins to cover the kinds of genealogies that are needed to give an objective accounting of the micrograph. [Here, it might be noted, we are close to a fusion of accounting as providing an explanation and accounting as providing a set of accounts, as a computed list, much as a (financial) accountant does; the scientist as accountant of the material world].

Having said this, Barad further notes, anticipating a possible comment that seems to arise, that,

“This is not to say that each particular scientific practice includes everything under the sun, but rather “only everything relevantly related” (Rouse 2002, 83)” (Barad, 2007: 301)

What are the criteria of relevance, though, that would put a boundary around this (compulsive?) listing?

How far are we from Jorge Luis Borges’s fantastical encyclopaedic list, discussed in his essay
“The analytical language of John Wilkins” and mentioned in the preface of Foucault’s The Order of Things?


Beyer, S., Gorris, L. and Eco, U. (2009, 11 November). “We like lists because we don’t want to die.” Spiegel Online, 11 November 2009. Available at: http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/spiegel-interview-with-umberto-eco-we-like-lists-because-we-don-t-want-to-die-a-659577-druck.html

Borges, J.L. (1993). The analytical language of John Wilkins. In Other inquisitions 1937-1952. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

Foucault, M. (1994). The Order of things: an archaeology of the human sciences, New York, NY: Vintage Books.

Interior/Exterior; Inside/Outside; Subject/Object


How does Barad’s discussion of ‘exteriority’ and ‘objectivity’ relate to parallel discussions in psychoanalysis? For example, Weems notes that,

“Psychoanalysis teaches us that the boundaries between inside and outside are blurred as we interiorize (external) symbolic figures through fantasy, desire, projection, and transference.” (Weems, 2007: 40)

If, indeed, relations between inside and outside, for humans as part of the world’s intra-active becoming, are mediated by:



Projection; and


how does Barad propose to sort among these blurred relations in her agential realism, such as to distinguish and perceive the ‘phenomenon’ in question, and to enact an ‘ethical’ relation to the ongoing situation, event or process?

We might agree that this is an ‘entanglement’, but can insights from quantum mechanics help us here?

Weems, L. (2007). To be mindful of otherness: toward a post-psychoanalytic problematic of ethics and education. Philosophical Studies in Education, 50, pp.37–50. Available at: http://www.ovpes.org/2007/Weems.pdf

Barad, Chapter 6, Phase 2: engaging Leela Fernandes


The Carla Fernández: The Barefoot Designer: A Passion for Radical Design and Community exhibition at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum explored the traditions and techniques of indigenous Mexican artisans and how they can be applied to modern fashion and styles.

On page 226 of Meeting the Universe Halfway, Karen Barad states that,

“In this chapter, I diffractively read [Leela] Fernandes’s notion of the structural-discursive relations of power and an agential realist understanding of material-discursive relations of power through each other.” (Barad, 2007: 226)

The question motivating Fernandes’s study is why did the economic crisis in the jute industry in India in the 1980s result in the disproportionate ejection of women from the jute labour force.

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