Merle L Bowen Phd

 Merle Bowen

Contact Information

Department of African American Studies
1201 W. Nevada, MC/143
Urbana, IL 61801
Affiliate Faculty
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Additional Campus Affiliations


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

Distinctions / 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

Selected Publications

Journal Articles

Bowen, Merle L The Struggle for Black Land Rights in Brazil: an Insider’s View on Quilombos and the Quilombo Land Movement African and Black Diaspora: An International Journal 3 2 2010, p. 147-168.
Bowen, Merle L, and Ayesha S. Tillman Developing Culturally Responsive Surveys: Lessons in Development, Implementation, and Analysis from Brazil's African Descent Communities American Journal of Evaluation 36 1 2015, p. 25-41.
Co-Editor, Merle L. Bowen Afro-Brazilian Citizenship and the Politics of History Special Issue, African and Black Diaspora, 10 (2) 2017 2017.

Book Contributions

Bowen, Merle L Social Differentiation, Farming Practices, and Environmental Change in Mozambique African Savannas: Global Narratives and Local Knowledge of Environmental Change edited by Donald Crummey, compiled by Thomas Bassett. Social Differentiation, Farming Practices, and Environmental Change in Mozambique Edited by Donald Crummey, Compiled by Thomas Bassett, Oxford and Portsmouth James Currey and Heinemann 2003, p. 225-247.


Photo of publication
Bowen, Merle L The State against the Peasantry: Rural Struggles in Colonial and Postcolonial Mozambique Charlottesville University Press of Virginia 2000.