Material Uncertainty: Nanomaterials, Regulation and Symbolic Legislation

Part of the Legisprudence Library book series (LEGIS, volume 4)


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.


Nanotechnology Nanomaterials Legislation, Regulation Participation 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Law SchoolBirmingham Law School, University of BirminghamBirminghamUK
  2. 2.Law SchoolCardiff Law School, Cardiff UniversityCardiffUK

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