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Nicholas Rush Smith

Faculty and Staff Profiles

Nicholas Rush Smith

Assistant Professor

NAC 4/143B
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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. His first book, entitled Contradictions of Democracy: Vigilantism and Rights in Post-Apartheid South Africa, is 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 Politics of Death: Death and South African State Formation from Apartheid to Democracy, explores the relationship between apartheid suppression, revolutionary mobilization, and long-run processes of state formation. 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 in leading journals like the American Journal of Sociology, Comparative PoliticsAfrican AffairsPS: Political Science and Politics and Qualitative and Multi-Method Research and I am on the editorial committee for Comparative 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.

His CV is available at



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


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 



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)

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 Scwartz. 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:
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