Material uncertainty: nanomaterials, regulation and symbolic legislation

Robert Lee, Elen Stokes

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


This chapter examines debates concerning the EU’s regulation of nanotechnology. Claims about the potential uses and consequences of nanotechnology are scientifically and politically contested, and have understandably failed to produce consensus over an appropriate regulatory response. Yet legislatures and policymakers have been called upon to review and, as necessary, enact legislation. Here, we find that legislation works symbolically in two senses. In the ‘negative’ sense, legislation is deployed to signal that nanotechnology and the risks to which it gives rise are capable of and subject to control, in spite of prevailing uncertainty. At the same time, the legislation strives to achieve ‘positive’ symbolism in the sense that the legislative process opens up space in which technological futures can be the subject of debate. The chapter concludes by noting that notwithstanding the dangers of the negatively symbolic approach, and while the legislation does not achieve ‘positive’ symbolism in the fullest way possible, nonetheless the venue for debate provided by the introduction of legislation is to be welcomed.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSymbolic Legislation and Developments in Biolaw
EditorsB van Klink, B van Beers, L Poort
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-319-33365-6
ISBN (Print)978-3-319-33363-2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2016

Publication series

NameLegisprudence Library
ISSN (Print)2213-2813


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