What if Wednesdays - Free public lectures, twice monthly

The University of Canterbury holds free public lectures on campus, twice a month on Wednesdays from 7.00pm.

The What if Wednesdays (WIW) public lecture series will run from March to October in 2014. This year the series will be held twice a month with interesting topics and speakers from the University of Canterbury.

Should you wish to revisit any of the WIW lectures from earlier this year or 2013, you can view them via our YouTube channel.

Upcoming Lectures

10 September

What if... We were exposed to asbestos?

Professor Ian C Shaw, Professor of Toxicology, Department of Chemistry

  • Has our exposure to asbestos increased after the Christchurch earthquake?
  • What are the health implications of exposure to asbestos?
  • Why and how does asbestos cause lung diseases and cancer?
  • Is demolition dust as dangerous as asbestos?

Asbestos was heralded as an inert, non-toxic, non-inflammable wonder that revolutionised building materials of the early to mid-20th century.  By the latter half of the century it was a despised, banned carcinogen.  Now exposure to even the smallest quantities is considered an unacceptable risk.  Christchurch met this problem head on following the 2010 earthquakes when large amounts of asbestos fibres were released from building materials as buildings collapsed.  This was unavoidable, but was the later exposure as damaged buildings were demolished?

Asbestos is a fascinating substance that interacts with cells in the lungs to cause changes that have long term health implications, including asbestosis and cancer (mesothelioma).  We know understand how asbestos achieves this sinister goal – the secret is in its minute sharp fibres that can be breathed deep into the lungs combined with its cell penetrating and gene altering capabilities – not a nice molecule, but very, very interesting!

Interestingly, other sharp fibre dusts can have the same effects on cells and are likely to have similar long-term health effects to asbestos.  The question is would we expect people living in and around Christchurch suffer the ills of their exposure to our dusty demolition environment?

This lecture will look at asbestos the chemical and asbestos the carcinogen and explore whether Christchurch people are investing in a mesothelioma epidemic in a decade or so.

Register now!

24 September

What if... Women could balance work and family responsibilities?

Associate Professor Annick Masselot, Department of Accounting and Finance Systems, School of Business and Economics

  • What are the challenges of combining work and family responsibilities?
  • Why are these challenges more acute for some people such as low wage workers or women?
  • Who is benefiting most from flexible working arrangements?
  • Why flexibility is a gendered concept?
  • What are the consequences of the recent extension of the maternity leave for women and for men?

For reasons ranging from demographic to economic concerns, the ability to allow individuals to reconcile their work and family responsibilities has become an increasingly prominent area of public policy in many developed countries, including in New Zealand. However, despite the adoption of a relatively comprehensive legal framework, there is overwhelming evidence that many carers, in particular women, continue to experience difficulties in balancing paid work with family responsibilities.

What seems like a relatively simple goal – to enable families to better balance care-giving and paid employment – has raised several difficulties and dilemmas for policy makers and has been approached in different ways in different countries over time. Two constant facts frame the debate over work-family reconciliation. First, care-giving activities are considered to be private activities with little connection to the public sphere. Care-giving is not normally viewed as a genuine economic activity. It is often informal, invisible, unpaid and thus outside the traditional market-based notion of work. Second, women have traditionally been providing care for free.

It is argued that this model fails to reflect today’s social reality where care is an increasingly dominant feature of everybody’s life. This presentation challenges the traditional gendered patterns of responsibility for domestic work and childcare. It argues that care underpins the functioning of the economy and as such should be valued equally to other activities in the public sphere.


Annick Masselot is an Associate Professor in law at the University of Canterbury (Department of Accounting and Information Systems). Her research interests is comparative in nature and focuses upon gender equality and equal treatment, social and employment law, reconciliation between work and family life, pregnancy and maternity rights. She is the author of Reconciling Work and Family Life in EU Law and Policy, (2010) London: Palgrave Macmillan (with E. Caracciolo di Torella). She is also the author of the Thematic Report of the European Network of Legal Experts in the Field of Gender Equality “Fighting Discrimination on the Grounds of Pregnancy, Maternity and Parenthood - The application of EU and national law in practice in 33 European countries”, Publication of the European Commission, November 2012. ISBN 978-92-79-27748-1, http://ec.europa.eu/justice/gender-equality/files/your_rights/discrimination__pregnancy_maternity_parenthood_final.en.pdf (with E. Caracciolo di Torella and S. Bury)

Register now!

22 October

What if... a New Zealand writer own the Nobel Prize for Literature?

Professor Paul Millar, Head of School of Humanities and Creative Arts

  • Why was Katherine Mansfield never considered for the Nobel Prize for Literature?
  • Has New Zealand ever had any serious contenders for the prize?
  • Which current practising New Zealand writer is the strongest candidate for the prize?
  • What should a young New Zealand writer do to become a contender for the prize?
  • What would a New Zealander winning the Nobel Prize for Literature tell us about the state of New Zealand writing?

It seems the key criteria for winning the Nobel Prize for Literature is staying alive long enough to collect it; no writer younger than 42 has ever won the award. It also helps if the wielder of the pen is male; of the 110 Nobel laureates only 13 have been women. For both of these reasons the odds of winning a Nobel Prize for Literature were always strongly against New Zealand’s greatest writer, Katherine Mansfield.

In this lecture Paul Millar discusses what it takes to win the Nobel Prize for Literature and identifies a number of the great writers of New Zealand literary history who had things in common with past winners and might have been strong contenders for such a prize. He also identifies some fatal flaws that might have prejudiced their selection. Millar concludes by looking at the work of a number of New Zealand’s major living writers and calculating the odds of New Zealand adding a Nobel Prize for Literature to the two Man Booker prizes already on the national trophy shelf.

Register now!