This paper reports on a study of how students' reasoning about socioscientific issues is framed by three dynamics: societal structures, agency and how trust and security issues are handled. Examples from gene technology were used as the forum for interviews with 13 Swedish highschool students (year 11, age 17–18). A grid based on modalities from the societal structures described by Giddens was used to structure the analysis. The results illustrate how the participating students used both modalities for 'Legitimation' and 'Domination' to justify positions that accept or reject new technology. The analysis also showed how norms and knowledge can be used to justify opposing positions in relation to building trust in science and technology, or in democratic decisions expected to favour personal norms. Here, students accepted or rejected the authority of experts based on perceptions of the knowledge base that the authority was seen to be anchored in. Difficulty in discerning between material risks (reduced safety) and immaterial risks (loss of norms) was also found. These outcomes are used to draw attention to the educational challenges associated with students' using knowledge claims (Domination) to support norms (Legitimation) and how this is related to the development of a sense of agency in terms of sharing norms with experts or with laymen.