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Nicholas Rush Smith

I am an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the City University of New York – City College. My main research interests are the politics of crime, policing, and vigilantism in democratic states, with a particular focus on South Africa. My first book, entitled Contradictions of Democracy: Vigilantism and Rights in Post-Apartheid South Africa, is forthcoming from Oxford University Press 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.

I am currently working on two additional book projects. The first, provisionally entitled Deadly Democracy: Death and Life for Young Men in Post-Apartheid South Africa, explores the ironies of democracy by examining the exploding mortality rates young men experienced after the collapse of apartheid, a moment where they expected rapid upward mobility after having been at the forefront of the struggle against apartheid. The second, an edited volume in development with Erica S. Simmons (University of Wisconsin – Madison), is provisionally entitled Rethinking Comparison in the Social Sciences. Based on a conference we 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, I have published research on counterrevolution, rights amidst democratic transition, and comparative and ethnographic methods. My work has been published in leading journals like the American Journal of Sociology, Comparative PoliticsAfrican Affairs, and PS: Political Science and Politics. I was a finalist for the Andrew Carnegie Fellows Program, have won multiple awards for my writing from the American Political Science Association, and have received grant and fellowship support from, among other organizations, the National Science Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, and Fulbright-Hays. I hold a PhD in political science from the University of Chicago.