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This chapter initially attempts to define artificial islands as a category of geographical features, while at the same time acknowledging the fluidity of the boundaries between artificial and natural (islands). What makes the artificial island distinct and different from a natural island is a key theme of this section. Our second section turns to a more geopolitical-legal register and considers how artificial islands have been caught up in distinct projects designed to reinforce sovereign rights in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. At the heart of these earthly machinations are the entitlements that coastal states derive from the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention and the distinctions made between natural and artificial islands. It would be no exaggeration to claim that China, Philippines and Vietnam are gripped by the exclamatory potential of artificial islands: they may not love them, but they certainly see a great deal of infrastructural and legal-geopolitical value in their existence. Thereafter, we interrogate the role of artificial islands in primarily the western cultural imagination and the roots of their promissory, utopian potential. Finally, we conclude the chapter by discussing why artificial islands continue to fascinate and inspire our geographical imaginations as we face the accumulating consequences of global warming and further earthly change
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge International Handbook of Island Studies
Subtitle of host publicationA World of Islands
Place of PublicationLondon
ISBN (Print)9781472483386
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jun 2018


  • Islands
  • Islophilia
  • geopolitics
  • culture
  • imagination
  • materiality
  • sovereignty
  • international law

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