The Physiology of Imagined Publics

From a Deficit to an Ambivalence Model

  • Gisle Solbu Norwegian University of Science and Technology


This paper draws on the concept of imagined lay persons (ILP) to investigate how scientists working in the fields of bio- and nanotechnology perceive the public and how these imaginaries facilitate or hinder engagement activities. Scientists construct imaginaries of publics that shape the ways in which they address the public, perceive the benefits of public engagement activities, and form communication strategies. Moreover, the paper argues that scientists’ accounts of the public are characterised by ambivalence regarding what the public is, the public’s knowledge and the public’s ability to take part in scientific processes. Thus, the paper proposes a more comprehensive approach to understanding ILPs than provided by previous studies, which have focused on the attribution of knowledge deficits and related fears of protest and resistance.