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Making sense of an uncertain world: lecture series

Humanities and social sciences scholars share their expertise and insights on a diverse local and global topics in the Our Changing World lecture series.

China’s influence, Auckland’s superdiversity, hate speech to philosophical issues in health and science research and the transformative power of theatre, music, literature – these are just a few of the sizzling topics in this year’s Our Changing World public lectures by Massey University humanities and social science scholars.

Exploring, analysing and understanding complex and compelling issues is where philosophers, sociologists, historians, linguists and other arts scholars shine. The series, now in its third consecutive year at the Auckland campus and expanding to Wellington and Manawatū this year, offers a diverse range of topics of interest to the wider public, offering fresh perspectives and food for thought.

Hosted by the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the series – with nine lectures in each city running from March to November – kicks off on March 6 on the Auckland campus with Dr David Belgrave discussing New Zealand’s policy towards China. His talk, Our way or the Huawei? Past, Present and Future Options for New Zealand and China, will provide historical context to the New Zealand-China relationship and look at policy challenges for the future in what has become a hot button issue this year.

Distinguished Professor Paul Spoonley, Pro Vice-Chancellor for the College, launches the Wellington series at the National Library on March 19 discussing hate speech in the age of the internet, followed by politics lecturer Professor Richard Shaw in April talking on the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the implications for the future of work.

In Auckland, French language and literature specialist Dr France Grenaudier-Klijn will explore how the Holocaust of World War II continues to haunt French society and culture in her April talk: Ghosts of the Holocaust in contemporary French fiction.

Philosopher Dr John Matthewson will share insights on populations in science research and applications. He will explore how science applications and funding gets targeted to particular groups, moving from philosophical analysis through scientific methodology to ultimately consider practical outcomes. 

The first lecture, in Auckland, looks at past and current contexts for New Zealand's relationship with China.

Protest origins and sports' allure

Historian Dr Amanda McVitty takes the audience back to medieval Europe to consider the earliest voices of protest in politics. She will discuss how and why the voices of the people emerged “as a formidable and unpredictable force in medieval politics,” and explore the strategies ordinary men and women used to protest injustice, defy corrupt leaders, and demand change.

Historian and author Dr Geoff Watson considers the world of sport in New Zealand and why it is so important to many in our nation, in his talk: Continuity or Change? Sport in New Zealand Society c. 1840-2019.

The Auckland series concludes in November with demographer Professor Spoonley discussing the latest trends in Auckland’s fast-growing population in his talk: “Superdiverse Auckland: A New City Emerges.”

The Manawatū series, to be held at the Palmerston North City Library, launches on March 14 with Professor Chris Gallavin talking on the impact of digital disruption on education, to ask ‘is our tertiary sector facing an existential crisis?’

Following lectures include Thomas Nash, Massey’s Social entrepreneur-in-residence, discussing innovative solutions to the housing crisis such as collective urban housing projects; Professor Rouben Azizian on tensions between China and New Zealand, as well as the lectures on the impact of the Holocaust on French literature, sport in New Zealand, Shakespeare; and medieval politics and protest mentioned above.

In Wellington, Dr Germana Nicklin, senior lecturer and Deputy Director in the Centre for Defence and Security Studies, will share her insights on New Zealand’s borders from European and Māori perspectives in her May lecture; Stories of Aotearoa New Zealand's borders – how they bound and bind us. 

International relations expert Dr Anna Powles will talk about on the implications for the Pacific ‘reset’; Associate Professor Christine Kenney, from the Joint Centre for Disaster Research, will share her research insights on indigenous approaches to disaster management, and psychologist Dr John Fitzgerald will explore New Zealand's high suicide rate and lack of a national suicide prevention strategy, asking "What are the research data, philosophical positions, and social pressures that account for this? What are the underlying questions that must be resolved before a meaningful policy direction can be established?"

Award-winning playwright and theatre lecturer Associate Professor Elspeth Tilley will share her research insights and experiences from pioneering work in performance arts and activism, while Spanish language programme convenor and award-winning poet Associate Professor Leonel Alvarado will talk about the impact and influence of Latino music around the world.

College of Humanities and Social Sciences' Regional Director in Auckland and lecture series convenor, Dr Damien Rogers.

Fresh insights on complex issues of our time

Dr Nicklin, Regional Director for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences in Wellington, says that; "More than ever, with big societal challenges such as climate change, social cohesion and global political instability, we need to feel hopeful about the future."

"The Wellington series provides not only insights on important social issues, but reasons to be hopeful," she says. "Our line-up of inspiring speakers traverses matters that affect us all, like the internet, natural disasters and the power of music to ways in which to create a better world, from breaking down barriers to taking action. We're delighted to be partnering with the National Library to make this series accessible to as wide an audience as possible."

Auckland convenor Dr Damien Rogers, a politics lecturer in the School of People, Environment and Planning, says; “These days, the world around us seems more complex than ever before. For some, humanity is on a precipice, tearing itself apart in some regions of the world as a global ecological crisis appears ever closer on our shared horizon. For others, we live in an era of unparalleled opportunity and unsurpassed prosperity. How are we to make sense of it all?” 

 “We offer these lectures free to the public to better connect with our local communities and to fulfil, in part, our cherished role as critic and conscience of society. We hope the series will inform, and perhaps even transform, the way in which people think about a broad range of fascinating topics.”   

Wellington campus Regional Director for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Dr Germana Nicklin.




TIME: Doors open at 6pm. Lecture 6.30-7.30pm.

VENUE: Round Room, Atrium Building, Albany campus, Massey University



TIME: 6pm to 7pm, third Tuesday of the month.

VENUE: National Library of New Zealand, Programme Rooms, Te Ahumairangi (ground floor), corner Molesworth and Aitken Streets, Thorndon.

Palmerston North: 

TIME: 6pm to 7.30pm

VENUE: Ground Floor, Palmerston North City Library

For more information on the lecture topics and dates, or to register: 

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