J. Alejandro Artiga-Purcell


J Artiga Purcell

Assistant Professor

Department of Communication Studies




environmental justice; environmental communication; social movement communication; extractive development; more-than-human communication; political ecology; Central American water politics; sustainable development discourse; decolonial movements

Current Research Activities

My research on Salvadoran social movements asks, how did El Salvador become the only country in history to ban all metal mining at a national scale? What discourses, ecologies, and political economic forces effectively contest water-intensive extractive activities in El Salvador? How do social movement victories against particular extractive activities (e.g. gold mining) entrench other extractive industries (e.g., expanding agrarian extractivism)? How do supposedly distinct forms and sites of extractivism shape one another through discourse, technology, finance, culture, and political economy? How do the successes and limitations of past environmental movements inform on-the-ground social movement strategies and politics going forward? How do the empirical complexities and contradictions of Salvadoran extractive industries foster new understandings, definitions, and theories of extractivism?

My work on extractive development in California asks whose lives, livelihoods, values, and environments are centered and erased in “clean energy transition” discourses and policies in the Salton Sea and beyond? How have discourses on extractivism changed to justify and contest California’s green transition? How has California’s official commitment to a clean energy transition shaped, coopted, and countered social movement discourses for resisting extractive development? How do these impacts differ or coalesce across communities from distinct Californian geographies, cultures, and political economies?

My collaborative work on climate justice pedagogy asks how can undergraduate education at SJSU facilitate students’ critical understanding of societal and ecological crises, agency to help resolve these crises, and physical and emotional well-being while doing so? 

Personal Connections to Research

Extractivism is the bedrock of modern society. The metals, minerals, and hydrocarbons needed for urban development, food production, technological innovation, war, and day-to-day life also drive some of the most urgent crises of our day, from climate change and biodiversity loss to immigration and rampant social inequality. My ongoing work on anti-mining movements in El Salvador and emerging research on extractive development discourses in California offers key insights for understanding the discursive politics (e.g., the narratives, myths, values) that resist and entrench extractivism. Such understanding is fundamental for building more effective and diverse coalition movements for environmental justice.

In the Salvadoran context, my work traces the success and limitations of the historic movement to ban metal mining in 2017, and the potential for and necessity of ongoing struggles for water justice. Amplifying the voices of Salvadoran environmental activists has never been more needed as an increasingly emboldened authoritarian government continues to criminalize social dissent and threatens to reinstate mining. My work has recently been used to inform the US Ambassador to El Salvador, the Salvadoran Attorney General, and the general public of the criminalization of environmentalists and the social and ecological dangers of mining in El Salvador.

In the Californian context, my research strives to highlight the voices and experiences of those communities bearing the brunt of the current “clean” energy transition. This builds on my past collaborative work with an NGO in the Coachella Valley to inform communities of the potential economic benefits and social-ecological dangers of proposed lithium mining in the region.

Finally, my collaborative work on climate justice pedagogy responds to SJSU’s mission to provide education that “enriches the lives of its students” and “in the service of our society.” I’ve already begun integrating findings on engaged pedagogy into the COMM 168A/B classroom.

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