'Everything can always be something else': Adhocism and J.G.Ballard's Concrete Island

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Robert Maitland—J.G. Ballard’s main character in his 1974 novel Concrete Island—fashions an improvised crutch from an old exhaust pipe, offering him some respite from his injured leg. The novel contains a range of similar tactical survival measures, including the use of a car’s windscreen washer bottle as drinking water. This paper explores such practical approaches employed by Maitland on the urban ‘island’. It situates his use of pre-existing objects within a wider socio-cultural currency developing at this time in the early 1970s – ad hoc material practices. I specifically examine the confluences between the theme of survival on the island and the turn toward adhocist architectural and design practices identified in Charles Jencks and Nathan Silver’s 1972 book Adhocism: The Case For Improvisation. The paper locates both books within a moment of critique towards the tabula rasa of high modernity, as well as growing assertions of the right to personal freedom through consumer empowerment. Ultimately the paper develops the thesis that the detritus of technological advancement offers potentially creative approaches to the use of seemingly redundant everyday material things.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-95
Number of pages17
JournalLiterary Geographies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 27 Aug 2016

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • J.G. Ballard
  • Concrete Island
  • adhocism
  • ad hoc design
  • desert island literature
  • material culture


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