Nicholas Rush Smith

Assistant Professor

Main Affiliation

Political Science


NAC 4/143B



Nicholas Rush Smith


Nicholas Rush Smith is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the City University of New York - City College and a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Johannesburg. His main research interests are the political dynamics of democratic states, with a particular focus on the politics of crime, policing, vigilantism, and state violence in South Africa. His first book, entitled Contradictions of Democracy: Vigilantism and Rights in Post-Apartheid South Africa, was published by Oxford University Press (2019) in the Oxford Studies in Culture and Politics series. Based on approximately 20 months of ethnographic and archival research, it asks why South Africa has experienced extraordinarily high rates of vigilantism despite a celebrated transition to democracy, a lauded constitution, and massive transformations of the state's legal apparatus following apartheid.


Professor Smith is currently working on two additional book projects. The first, provisionally entitled The Tradition of All Dead Generations: Crisis and Reproduction after Democratic State Violence, explores the ways in which democracy is reproduced in the wake of state violence, focusing particularly on the 2012 Marikana Massacre in South Africa. The second, an edited volume in development with Erica S. Simmons (University of Wisconsin - Madison), is provisionally entitled Rethinking Comparison. Based on a conference Smith and Simmons jointly organized at the City College of New York, the collected papers will lay out logics for conducting comparative research that go beyond the controlled comparisons that usually form the basis for graduate methods training in the social sciences.


In addition to these main projects, Professor Smith has published work on counterrevolution, on rights amidst democratization, and on comparative and ethnographic methods. His work has been published or is forthcoming in leading journals like the American Journal of SociologyComparative PoliticsAfrican Affairs, Perspectives on PoliticsPS: Political Science and Politics and Qualitative and Multi-Method Research. He serves on the editorial committee for Comparative Politics, was a Finalist for the Andrew Carnegie Fellows Program, has won multiple awards for his writing from the American Political Science Association, and has received grant and fellowship support from, among other organizations, the National Science Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, and Fulbright-Hays. He received his PhD from the University of Chicago.



PhD, University of Chicago, 2013 


MA, University of Chicago, 2004


MA, The George Washington University, 2003


BA, The College of William and Mary, 2001




Smith, Nicholas Rush. 2019. Contradictions of Democracy: Vigilantism and Rights in Post-Apartheid South Africa. New York: Oxford University Press. (Oxford Studies in Culture and Politics series)





Alan M. Jacobs and Tim Büthe with 48 others. Forthcoming. “Transparency in Qualitative Research: An Overview of Key Findings and Recommendations.” Perspectives on Politics. 


Schwedler, Jillian, Erica S. Simmons and Nicholas Rush Smith. Forthcoming. “Ethnography and Participant Observation: Summary of the Final Report of QTD Working Group III.3.” Perspectives on Politics.


Smith, Nicholas Rush. Forthcoming. “Member Checking: Lessons from the Dead.” Qualitative and Multi-Method Research.


Simmons, Erica S. and Nicholas Rush Smith. 2019. “The Case for Comparative Ethnography.” Comparative Politics 51 (3): 341-359.


Simmons, Erica S., Nicholas Rush Smith, and Rachel Schwartz. 2018. "Rethinking Comparison in the Social Sciences." Qualitative and Multi-Method Research 16 (1): 1-7. (Co-organizer of symposium on "Rethinking Comparison in the Social Sciences.")


Smith, Nicholas Rush. 2017. “The Rule of Rights: Comparative Lessons from Twenty Years of South African Democracy.” Comparative Politics 50 (1): 123-141. 


Smith, Nicholas Rush. 2017. “New Times Demand Old Magic: Necklacing Past and Present.” In Global Lynching and Collective Violence: Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Michael Pfeifer, Ed. Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois Press.


Simmons, Erica and Nicholas Rush Smith. 2017. “Comparison with an Ethnographic Sensibility.” PS: Political Science and Politics 50 (1): 126-130.


Slater, Dan and Nicholas Rush Smith. 2016. “The Power of Counterrevolution: Elitist Origins of Political Order in Postcolonial Asia and Africa.” American Journal of Sociology. 121 (5): 1472-1516.


Smith, Nicholas Rush. 2015. “Rejecting Rights: Vigilantism and Violence in Post-Apartheid South Africa.” African Affairs 114(456): 341-360. 





Smith, Nicholas Rush. Forthcoming. “'Township Violence and the End of Apartheid: War on the Reef' by Gary Kynoch.” International Journal of African Historical Studies.


Smith, Nicholas Rush. 2018. “’Bodies of Truth: Law, Memory, and Emancipation in Post-Apartheid South Africa' by Rita Kesselring.” Anthropological Quarterly 91 (2): 841-845.


Smith, Nicholas Rush. 2017. “’Electoral Violence in Sub-Saharan Africa' by Stephanie M. Burchard and 'The Limits of Democratic Governance in South Africa' by Louis A. Picard and Thomas Mogale." Perspectives on Politics 15 (1): 261-262.





Smith, Nicholas Rush. 2019. “Contradictions of Democracy: Vigilantism and Rights in Post-Apartheid South Africa. Democracy in Africa. 20 May. (Invited)


Schwedler, Jillian M., Erica S. Simmons and Nicholas Rush Smith. 2019. "Ethnography and Participant Observation." American Political Science Association Organized Section for Qualitative and Multi-Method Research, Qualitative Transparency Deliberations, Working Group Final Reports, Report III.3 (August 2018).


Smith, Nicholas Rush. 2018. “Apartheid.” In The SAGE Encyclopedia of Surveillance, Security, and Privacy. Bruce Arrigo, Ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.


Smith, Nicholas Rush. 2018. “South Africa.” In The SAGE Encyclopedia of Surveillance, Security, and Privacy. Bruce Arrigo, Ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.


Simmons, Erica and Nicholas Rush Smith. 2015. “The Case for Comparative Ethnography.” Qualitative and Multi-Method Research: Newsletter of the American Political Science Association Organized Section for Qualitative and Multi-Method Research 13 (2): 13-18.


Smith, Nicholas Rush. “Beyond Pistorius: The Politics of South African Justice.” African Arguments. September 12, 2014.


Smith, Nicholas Rush. “The Struggle Continues: Mandela and His Legacies.” Five Rupees. July 1, 2013. (Invited)


Smith, Nicholas Rush. “The Wonga Coup: Transparency and Conspiracy in Equatorial Guinea.” CSIS Online Africa Policy Forum. January 23, 2008:

Courses Taught



IR B6800 Research Methods


IR B6917 Africa in World Affairs





PSC 10400 Introduction to World Politics


PSC 31113 Argument and Evidence in Political Science


PSC 31548 Senior Thesis


PSC 31778 Political Systems of Africa


PSC 31807 The Politics of Crime and Punishment