Lyotard and Foucault/Meta-Narratives and Discourses
Meta-narratives and discourses are opposite things. They are opposite ends of the same idea. A meta-narrative is an idea or ideology that is accepted most completely by a culture, nation or group. Meta-narratives are expected to always be true and to shape completely an understanding of the world. Discourses do have much power to influence but they are less totalizing and more temporal. (People may accept discourses in a way that make them appear to be hegemonic, that make them seen to be meta-narratives.)
Lyotard claims that meta-narratives are false things that people believe to be real and true. Lyotard feels that meta-narratives must be challenged and disrupted. Lyotard believes that the world is built of language games that differ from person to person, and culture to culture. There is not one thing that is true for all people and all places. Meta-narratives claim to have such encompassing influence, shaping events all around the world, and all across time. Belief in meta-narratives, like belief in religion, to Lyotard is an error, and such beliefs lead to poor results.
Foucault sees the cultural world as being built of numerous changing discourses. These discourses could be compared to and similar to Lyotard’s language games. Foucault’s discourses function much like fashion. People learn to discuss and understand things in ways that match the way other people in their communities discuss and understand them. There are discourses about government, and economics, and sex, and family, and war, and all things. And these discourses are different in different nations and communities. The discourses frame how people think about and understand things. Discourses are not more true than meta-narratives, but they function temporarily and contingently in ways that are less apparent than meta-narratives.
Lyotard and Foucault agree that the world is built of a vast complexity of language games and discourses and that this is how people come to understand their worlds.
Lyotard’s meta-narratives and Foucault’s discourses each function to control thought and prevent people from forming independent and accurate understandings of the world.