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Nicholas Rush Smith

Faculty and Staff Profiles

Nicholas Rush Smith

Assistant Professor

NAC 4/143B
Phone Number: 
Personal Website:
Nicholas Rush Smith's main research interests are the politics of crime, policing, and vigilantism in democratic states, with a particular focus on South Africa. He is currently completing a book entitled Resisting Rights: Vigilantism and the Contradictions of Democratic State Formation in Post-Apartheid South Africa (Forthcoming from Oxford University Press; Oxford Series in Culture and Politics). 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.
In addition to this main project, 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 Sociology, Comparative PoliticsAfrican Affairs, and PS: Political Science and Politics. He 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.

PhD, University of Chicago, 2013 

MA, University of Chicago, 2004

MA, The George Washington University, 2003

BA, The College of William and Mary, 2001

Courses Taught


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 



IR B6917 Africa in World Affairs

IR B6800 Research Methods
Smith, Nicholas Rush. Forthcoming. Resisting Rights: Vigilantism and the Contradictions of Democratic State Formation in Post-Apartheid South Africa. Oxford University Press; Oxford Series in Culture and Politics.
Simmons, Erica S. and Nicholas Rush Smith. Forthcoming. “The Case for Comparative Ethnography.” Comparative Politics.
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. “’Bodies of Truth: Law, Memory, and Emancipation in Post-Apartheid South Africa' by Rita Kesserling.” Anthropological Quarterly.
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. Forthcoming. “Apartheid.” In The SAGE Encyclopedia of Surveillance, Security, and Privacy. Bruce Arrigo, Ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
Smith, Nicholas Rush. Forthcoming. “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:
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