Since post-modernists reject unity points and Foucault's work shows one episteme to the other evolves completely randomly without any pattern, Fukuyama's theory here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w240nD5whsE

Should cause them significant problem. He basically says in any civilisation that achieves technological progress you will go on to develop an industrial class and therefore cities to accomodate them and then an urban and suburban civilisation. This means history has a direction. Isn't this in contradiction to postmodernism which preaches that no singular narrative can explain the progression of history and everything is random ?

  • Fukuyama became prominent in the 90s so earlier post-modernist writings wouldn't have responded to him specifically (though Derrida did in the 90s as pointed out by @CriglCragl ), but the idea that technological changes have a strong determining effect on large-scale historical changes is a basic part of Marx's historical materialism, so it might be worth looking into what various post-modernists have said about that element of Marxism (though there are 20th century versions of Marxism that significantly weaken the claims about the centrality of technology to historical change).
    – Hypnosifl
    Feb 26 at 0:35
  • It is ironic that several postmodernists, I am thinking for example in J. Derrida, who was very interested in the work of K. Marx who wanted to see in the material and technological conditions a kind of historical-economic determinism, oppose Fukuyama's idea which actually sounds very much like the old Marxian materialism.
    – Davius
    Jun 24 at 20:42

2 Answers 2


I assume you refer to his early work The Order of Things, where the arbitrary changes between different episteme are revealed via "The Archaeology of Knowledge". Based on that book, we can say that this does not challenge Foucault at all.

Foucault's episteme is about how epistemology is bound by arbitrarily changing narratives throughout history. This means nothing more or less than that the same facts are interpreted differently, leading to different historical interpretations of the same facts. It is, in a sense, about how our conceptual representation of the history and the world changes.

Fukuyama, on the other hand, describes - in Foucault's terms from within the current episteme - how one development materially necessitates another one.

In other words: While Fukuyama aspires to describe a factually necessary sequence of developments, he cannot escape the fact that he has to do so under the conditions of the episteme in which he grew up as his conceptual representations and his ability to communicate them are formed by this episteme.

Foucault never challenged that there are facts that are, in a sense, the same across different episteme. He pointed out that there are seemingly arbitrary changes regarding how these facts are understood and represented throughout history, ie. that ways of thinking about them fundamentally changed.

Even if these changes are materially caused which, I think, Foucault described in his theory, the point is that the episteme following afterwards is insofar arbitrarily detached from the prior one as it is revolutionary and thus makes a lot of prior thought patterns unintelligible to later generations who now can access historical sources only from within their own, new hermeneutical circle.

Thus, even if history was continuous and directed, the writing of history and our understanding of it isn't. Foucault points out that no perspective on history can possibly be absolute, including Fukuyama's.


"Isn't this in contradiction to postmodernism which preaches that no singular narrative can explain the progression of history and everything is random ?"

You say that like 'no singular narrative' means 'history is random'. That would be a pretty serious misreading of postmodernism, and, a weird argument.

Foucault interpreted historical development as primarily shaped by power dynamics, and a great deal of culture as implicitly about taking or securing power. That's different to a metanarrative, like Fukiyama's interpretation of (Hegelian) progress, in that it's a system of critique of narrative creating. That is, postmoderist thought doesn't aim to find the patterns in history and interpret it's 'message' or direction, but instead analyses and critiques those who do. For Foucault, the language of history is power, and helps us make sense of what we see. But what we claim it tells us to do, is a power-claim.

"The work of an intellectual is not to mould the political will of others; it is, through the analyses that he does in his own field, to re-examine evidence and assumptions, to shake up habitual ways of working and thinking, to dissipate conventional familiarities, to re-evaluate rules and institutions and to participate in the formation of a political will (where he has his role as citizen to play).” -Foucault in one of his final interviews, in 1984

Derrida is a noted critic of Fukiyama's ideas, saying in 1993, 4 years after 'The End Of History And The Last Man':

"Instead of singing the advent of the ideal of liberal democracy and of the capitalist market in the euphoria of the end of history, instead of celebrating the 'end of ideologies' and the end of the great emancipatory discourses, let us never neglect this obvious, macroscopic fact, made up of innumerable, singular sites of suffering: no degree of progress allows one to ignore that never before, in absolute figures, have so many men, women and children been subjugated, starved or exterminated on the earth." -from Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International

Postmodernism is not hegemonic, it's lots of tactics and approaches, varying by domain of application. Foucault might focus on power. Kuhn might see Fukiyama as stuck in one economic paradigm. Others might focus on postcolonial power dynamics and a battle for cultural supremacy and associated soft-power.

As discussed here, postmodernism is better thought of as a toolbox for criticism and analysis, not a school with one opinion on everything: Does postmodernism in art criticism collapse into relativism? What's its merit?

To see more recent postmodern thinking, you might have a look at: Need help with this paper on epistemic justice

  • Tbf, I took the question to be based on The Order of Things and not his later works, as the question does not align well with them
    – Philip Klöcking
    Feb 25 at 17:55

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