Merle L Bowen

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Personal profile

Personal profile

My intellectual journey in African and related studies began on the African continent, and expanded out from there to other parts of the black world, especially the Americas. Southern Africa generally, and Mozambique more particularly, were the site of my first major scholarly engagement. My agrarian interests in southern Africa led to another line of inquiry, notably rural sociology and social movements in the African diaspora. My current research focuses on Brazil’s quilombos or African descended communities struggling for land and livelihood, and critically examines the national quilombo land movement that is fighting for black land rights. Brazil, home to the largest population of people of African descent outside of the African continent, is an ideal location to explore the impact of land reform on class, race, and gender in rural settings.

Research Interests

Politics in Africa and the African Diaspora
Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in Africa/African Diaspora
Land, Labor, and Afro-Brazilian Rural Communities
Agrarian and Rural Issues
Afro-descendant Social Movements in the Americas

Professional Information

I am currently completing a book manuscript, For Land and Liberty: Black Struggles in Rural Brazil, an ethnographic study of Afro-Brazilian quilombo (maroon-descended) communities and their struggles for land rights, land reform, and livelihood. My work examines how race and ethnicity have become significant in new ways in twenty-first century Brazil and crucial to the resurgence of rural movements, rural mobilization, and rural resistance. While class-based land movements remain significant ethno-racial movements, such as the quilombo  movement, have mobilized communities and organized across regional and urban-rural divides.

Honors & Awards

Fellow, Center on Democracy in a Multiracial Society, UI, 2004
Fellow, Rockefeller Foundation Humanities Program at Northwestern University, 2005
Fellow, Carolina Postdoctoral Program for Faculty Diversity, 1991-93
Fellow, Center for Advanced Study, UI, 1990
Fellow, Frederick Douglass Institute for African and African American Studies, 1987-88


Principal Investigator, Department of African American Studies, Mandela Washington Fellows, Civic Leadership Institute, Department of State/IREX (FY16-YALI-CL-Illinois-01), 2016, $149,834
Principal Investigator, Center for African Studies, National Resource Center ($980,000/PO15A140048) and Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship ($1,822,500/PO15B140048) Title VI Grants, U.S. Department of Education, 2014-18, $2,802,500
Principal Investigator, “Who Owns Paradise? Afro-Brazilians and Ethno-Tourism in Brazil’s Quilombos,” Research Board (RB15124), 2015, $13,658 and International Research Travel Grant, $2500


Pan Africansim in the Americas, Europe and Africa
Government and Politics in Africa
Introduction to the African Diaspora
Development of African Studies
Global Africa
Social Movements and Globalization in Africa, Asia and Latin America
Comparative Politics in Developing Countries

Office Address

Department of African American Studies
1201 W. Nevada, MC/143
Urbana, IL 61801

Office Phone

Education/Academic qualification

M.A.A.S., University of California

Ph.D., University of Toronto

B.A. with honors, University of Toronto

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Research Output

Quilombo Identity, Ethno-Commodification, and Tourism in Neoliberal Brazil

Bowen, M. L., 2018, New Frontiers in the Study of the Global African Diaspora. Edozie, R. K. (ed.). East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, p. 197-212 16 p. (Ruth Simms Hamilton African Diaspora Series).

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Afro-Brazilian citizenship and the politics of history

Bowen, M. L. (Guest ed.), Mitchell, S. T. (Guest ed.) & Sullivan, L. (Guest ed.), May 4 2017, In : African and Black Diaspora. 10, 2

Research output: Contribution to journalSpecial issue

Who owns paradise? Afro-Brazilians and ethnic tourism in Brazil’s quilombos

Bowen, M. L., May 4 2017, In : African and Black Diaspora. 10, 2, p. 179-202 24 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • The struggle for black land rights in Brazil: An insider's view on quilombos and the quilombo land movement

    Bowen, M. L., Jul 1 2010, In : African and Black Diaspora. 3, 2, p. 147-168 22 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debate

  • Honors & Recognition


    Bowen, Merle L (Recipient), 1991

    Prize: Other distinction


    Bowen, Merle L (Recipient), 2005

    Prize: Other distinction


    Bowen, Merle L (Recipient), 1990

    Prize: Other distinction


    Bowen, Merle L (Recipient), 1987

    Prize: Other distinction


    Bowen, Merle L (Recipient), 2004

    Prize: Other distinction