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Expert in South African Vigilantism Joins Political Science Department at the Colin Powell School

Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership

Expert in South African Vigilantism Joins Political Science Department at the Colin Powell School


University of Chicago researcher Nicholas Rush Smith sheds light on the persistence of vigilantism in a democratic South Africa

The Department of Political Science at the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership has hired Nicholas Rush Smith, Ph.D., an award-winning graduate of the University of Chicago. Along with other new faculty additions, Calvert Jones of Yale University and Jeffrey Kucik of Emory University, Smith, a new assistant professor, deepens the substantial international expertise of the Colin Powell School at The City College of New York. 
A specialist in African politics, Smith focuses on the politics of crime, policing, and vigilantism in South Africa. He is currently working on a book, Resisting Rights: Vigilantism and the Contradictions of Democratic State Formation in Post-Apartheid South Africa, which examines why South Africa has had remarkably high rates of vigilante violence despite a celebrated democratic transition and massive reforms of the state’s policing and judicial institutions. Smith’s findings are based on 18 months of ethnographic and archival research, which involved deep immersion in the daily life of two townships, one of which was South Africa’s “murder capital.”
Smith complementary projects expand his broader research agenda on the contradictions of democratic rule of law. One project examines the memoirs of South African prison inmates as a lens to reveal the operation of political power behind bars. Another, which resulted in an article with Professor Dan Slater of the University of Chicago, focuses on postcolonial party durability. Smith and Slater apply historical data on political parties in Southeast Asia and Africa to challenge the prevailing wisdom on the strength and longevity of ruling regimes. They show counterrevolutionary parties are more likely to be durable than their revolutionary rivals, as is often assumed.
Smith’s recent or forthcoming presentations and papers include:
•“The Risks and Rewards of Vigilante Violence,” to be presented at the New York Law School, Twenty Years of South African Constitutionalism Conference.
•“Conceptualizing Vigilantism: Possibilities for Political Science,” presented at the 2014 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association. 
•“Return of the Repressed: Police Violence in Post-Apartheid South Africa,” presented at the 2013 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association.

Building on accolades and fellowships from the Social Science Research Council and Fulbright Hays, awarded during his graduate education, Smith recently received the Hayward Alker Best Student Paper Award. Granted by the American Political Science Association's Interpretive Methodologies and Methods Conference Group, the award recognized Smith’s paper, “Rejecting Rights: Rights and Violence in Post-Apartheid South Africa,” currently under review at a leading African politics journal. 

This fall, Smith is teaching a course on the Politics of Crime and Punishment and a course on methods in political science, entitled Arguments and Evidence. 

About the Colin Powell School

Inaugurated in 2013, the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership comprises the five departments of Anthropology, Economics, Political Science, Psychology, and Sociology and dynamic interdisciplinary programs including International Relations, International Studies, Latin American and Latino Studies, Mental Health Counseling, Pre-Law, Public Service Management, Women’s Studies, and the Skadden, Arps Honors Program for Legal Studies. The School offers a wide variety of traditional and interdisciplinary undergraduate and graduate degrees and houses the Ph.D. program in Clinical Psychology offered by the CUNY Graduate Center. The Colin Powell School’s hallmark values of service and leadership permeate every aspect of its work and animate City College’s unflagging and historic commitment to access and excellence.

About The City College of New York

Since 1847, The City College of New York has provided low-cost, high-quality education for New Yorkers in a wide variety of disciplines. More than 16,000 students pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees in: the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture; the School of Education; the Grove School of Engineering; the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education, and the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership. U.S. News, Princeton Review and Forbes all rank City College among the best colleges and universities in the United States.