Original Paper


, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 141-151

First online:

Narratives of Mastery and Resistance: Lay Ethics of Nanotechnology

  • Sarah R. DaviesAffiliated withArizona State University Email author 
  • , Phil MacnaghtenAffiliated withDurham University

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This paper contributes towards a lay ethics of nanotechnology through an analysis of talk from focus groups designed to examine how laypeople grapple with the meaning of a technology ‘in-the-making’. We describe the content of lay ethical concerns before suggesting that this content can be understood as being structured by five archetypal narratives which underpin talk. These we term: ‘the rich get richer and the poor get poorer’; ‘kept in the dark’; ‘opening Pandora’s box’; ‘messing with nature’; and ‘be careful what you wish for’. We further suggest that these narratives can be understood as sharing an emphasis on the ‘giftedness’ of life, and that together they are used to resist dominant technoscientific and Enlightenment narratives of control and mastery which are encapsulated by nanotechnology.


Control Lay ethics Narrative Nanotechnology Public perceptions