Merle L Bowen

Associate Professor


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

Research Description

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.


  • PhD, University of Toronto
  • M.A.A.S., University of California
  • BA (Honors), University of Toronto


  • 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

Awards and Honors

  • Fellow, Rockefeller Foundation Humanities Program at Northwestern University, 2005
  • Fellow, Center on Democracy in a Multiracial Society, UI, 2004
  • 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

Additional Campus Affiliations

Associate Professor, Gender and Women's Studies
Associate Professor, Political Science
Associate Professor, Global Studies Programs and Courses

Recent Publications

Bowen, M. L. (2018). Quilombo Identity, Ethno-Commodification, and Tourism in Neoliberal Brazil. In R. K. Edozie (Ed.), New Frontiers in the Study of the Global African Diaspora (pp. 197-212). (Ruth Simms Hamilton African Diaspora Series). East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.

Bowen, M. L. (Guest ed.), Mitchell, S. T. (Guest ed.), & Sullivan, L. (Guest ed.) (2017). Afro-Brazilian citizenship and the politics of history. African and Black Diaspora, 10(2).

Bowen, M. L. (2017). Who owns paradise? Afro-Brazilians and ethnic tourism in Brazil’s quilombos. African and Black Diaspora, 10(2), 179-202.

Bowen, M. L., & Tillman, A. S. (2015). Developing Culturally Responsive Surveys: Lessons in Development, Implementation, and Analysis From Brazil’s African Descent Communities. American Journal of Evaluation, 36(1), 25-41.

Bowen, M. L. (2010). The struggle for black land rights in Brazil: An insider's view on quilombos and the quilombo land movement. African and Black Diaspora, 3(2), 147-168.

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