Contradictions of Democracy

Contradictions of Democracy : Vigilantism and Rights in Post-Apartheid South Africa

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Despite being one of the world's most vibrant democracies, police estimate between five and ten percent of the murders in South Africa result from vigilante violence. This is puzzling given the country's celebrated transition to democracy and massive reform of the state's legal institutions. Where most studies explain vigilantism as a response to state or civic failure, in Contradictions of Democracy, Nicholas Rush Smith illustrates that vigilantism is
actually a response to the processes of democratic state formation. In the context of densely networked neighborhoods, vigilante citizens often interpret the technical success of legal institutions-for instance, the arrest and subsequent release of suspects on bail-as failure and work to correct such perceived
failures on their own. Smith also shows that vigilantism provides a new lens through which to understand democratic state formation. Among young men of color in some parts of South Africa, fear of extra-judicial police violence is common. Amid such fear, instead of the state seeming protective, it can appear as something akin to a massive vigilante organization. An insightful look into the high rates of vigilantism in South Africa and the general challenges of democratic state building,
Contradictions of Democracy explores fundamental questions about political order, the rule of law, and democratic citizenship.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 264 pages
  • 163 x 234 x 15mm | 372g
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0190847190
  • 9780190847197

Review quote

Smith's central argument is that vigilantism persists in South Africa not because the criminal justice system isweak but because the citizenry rejects the principles that animate it. A provocative argument on the moral dimensions of state formation, this book ought to attract wide interest among political scientists, socio-legal scholars, political anthropologists, and many others besides. * Jonny Steinberg, University of Oxford * Smith has produced an empathic and compelling book on vigilantism in contemporary South Africa. His deft narrative explores with nuance the choices young men make and the consequences they face as they turn to violence in search of the elusive fruits of liberation. Brave, original and timely, Smith's work deserves a wide readership among scholars of political violence, state formation and youth activism in South Africa and beyond. * Zachariah Mampilly, Vassar College * In this compelling work, Nicholas Smith traces vigilantism in post-apartheid South Africa to the tension between due process and perceptions of injustice when those suspected of crime or witchcraft go free. Drawing on 20 months of remarkable ethnographic research in two townships near Durban and Johannesburg, he suggests that the politics of vigilantism reflect state formation rather than state failure. * Elisabeth Jean Wood, Yale University *
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About Nicholas Rush Smith

Nicholas Rush Smith is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the City University of New York-City College.
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