Jeitinho

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Jeitinho
Informal practice commonly found in Brazil
Brazil map.png
Map of Brazil, where Jeitinho commonly takes place.
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Flag of Brazil.
Entry written by Dr. Fernanda de Paiva Duarte.
Dr. Fernanda de Paiva Duarte is affiliated to School of Business, University of Western Sydney (UWS).

Original Text: Dr. Fernanda de Paiva Duarte, Associate Professor at the School of Business, University of Western Sydney (UWS)

The word jeitinho (pronounced jay-tcheen-yoo) literally means ‘a little way’, and denotes a Brazilian cultural practice that involves seeking personal favours by cajoling or sweet-talking. DaMatta describes jeitinho as ‘a clever dodge to bend the rules’[1], and it can also be viewed as a tactic to deal with unexpected events or inconvenient situations. As well as denoting the practice in general, the word jeitinho can be used to request help in a specific instance . Just as in English one can explicitly ask, ‘Can you do me a favour?’, in Brazil one can ask for a jeitinho by saying ‘Da um jeitinho pra mim’ (literally ‘Give me a jeitinho’). Hence, one might ask for a jeitinho when one needs an extension of time to pay an overdue bill; when one needs a cash advance from the boss before pay-day; or when told at the garage that their car will not be fixed before the weekend. This explicitness reflects the fact that jeitinho is generally regarded by Brazilians as a legitimate social practice. It is considered a core element of Brazilian cultural identity[2][3]. It is also pervasive: Rega has commented that, ‘there are no dimensions in Brazilian life that are not encompassed by jeitinho.’[4]

In terms of its defining features, jeitinho can be characterized as follows. It is a personalised practice used to deal with extraordinary or unforeseen situations, and typically takes the form of a cordial approach (it is perceived to be more effective when accompanied by a smile or a gentle tone of voice). It involves a conscious act of bending or breaking the rules, and typically seeks short-term rather than long-term benefits. It is normally a self-serving tactic, although can also be used altruistically to help others. With regard to ethical judgement, jeitinho can be valued both positively as a harmless problem-solving strategy, and negatively as ruthless manipulation for personal advantage.

A particular feature that distinguishes jeitinho from an ordinary favour is the fact that jeitinho engenders diffuse reciprocity[5]. While a favour normally involves direct reciprocity between two people, jeitinho transactions entail a broader type of reciprocity based on the assumption that anyone can receive the benefits of an instance of jeitinho. As stated in a popular Brazilian adage, ‘Hoje é a vez dele; amanhā será a minha’ (‘Today it’s his turn, tomorrow it could be my turn’).

Writers such as DaMatta[6], Levine[7], Ramos[8] and Rosenn[9] conceptualize jeitinho more specifically as a strategy to deal with the constraints of bureaucratic rules which make it hard for people to solve administrative problems that emerge in their day-to-day life. In the words of Levine[10], jeitinho is ‘the “way” to grease the wheels of government or bureaucracy, so as to obtain a favor or to bypass rules and regulations’. For DaMatta [11], jeitinho is a Brazilian style of ‘social navigation’ that enables citizens to deal with impersonal norms. It is a peaceful and affable way to ‘connect the personal with the impersonal’, allowing the harmonisation of opposing interests through the creation of temporary ‘relationships’ between the person requesting the favour, and the person who can potentially grant the favour. Referring more specifically to work contexts, organisational theorists conceptualise jeitinho as an informal problem-solving mechanism used by employees to circumvent bureaucratic rules (see for example, Amado & Brasil 1991 [12]; Duarte 2006b[13]; Freitas 1997[14]; Prates & Barros 1997[15]). The personal versus impersonal dichotomy is also assumed in this particular interpretation of jeitinho.

In Brazilian society jeitinho involves a social choice, and there is thus a ‘social weight’ attributed to it. In other words, Brazilians explicitly recognize jeitinho and value it as a means of solving problems, perceived as ‘essentially Brazilian’. It is taken for granted that jeitinho is utilised by everyone − from the poorest to the richest [16] – and that the people involved in a jeitinho transaction are clearly aware that it is taking place. There is also an expectation in Brazilian society that a jeitinho will always be granted, considering that generosity, cordiality, warmth and empathy are regarded as core Brazilian attributes[17][18][19][20][21]). These characteristics are consistent with those underpinning the notion of simpatia, or a person’s ability to make others perceive them as charming, likeable and easy going. Establishing simpatia is fundamental to ensure that a jeitinho will be granted, considering that this practice involves coaxing a person to obtain the desired favour [22].

The assumption that Brazilian jeitinho is a benign social practice is not nevertheless universally shared. Levine warns about the dark side of jeitinho, expressing the view that it ‘falls between legitimate favors and out-and-out corruption’ [23]. He draws attention to the fact that in Brazilian society jeitinhos are not always granted by someone who is a personal acquaintance. There are instances where favours are granted in exchange for ‘a tip or a larger pay-off’, which renders the practice of jeitinho similar to bribery. Indeed, Cavalcanti compares jeitinho to bustarella in Italy, speed money in India, and baksheesh in Egypt – which are all forms of bribes or facilitation payments[24].

A number of similar practices to jeitinho exist in other Latin American countries. These include palanca in Colombia and pituto in Chile, both of which refer to useful connections used to obtain, for example, employment. Sociolismo in Cuba refers to the practice of using connections to access scarce resources, and is derived from the word socio, which means ‘pal’ or ‘buddy’. The prevalence of these terms suggests that the use of personal contacts to obtain preferential treatment is a common feature across Latin American cultures.

In conclusion, jeitinho can be conceptualised as a multi-layered cultural practice which exists in an ethical continuum that extends from a ‘positive’ pole where it possesses benign, friendly characteristics, to a ‘negative’ pole highlighting exploitative and even corrupt characteristics [25][26]. It reflects the complexities of a society that oscillates between a personalist worldview emphasising family and friendship, and a modern, individualistic ideology which emphasises survival-of-the-fittest [27].

Notes

  1. DaMatta, R (1991) Carnivals, Rogues and Heroes: Toward a Sociology of the Brazilian Dilemma. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.
  2. Barbosa, L (1992). O Jeitinho Brasileiro: A Arte de Ser Mais Igual que os Outros¸8ª. Edição. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Campos.
  3. DaMatta, R (1984) O que faz o brasil, Brasil? Rio de Janeiro: Editora Rocco.
  4. Rega, L. S. (2000), Dando um Jeito no Jeitinho: Como Ser Etico sem Deixar de Ser Brasileiro, São Paulo: Editora Mundo Cristão, pp.60
  5. Barbosa, L (1992). O Jeitinho Brasileiro: A Arte de Ser Mais Igual que os Outros¸8ª. Edição. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Campos.
  6. DaMatta, R. (1984) O que faz o brasil, Brasil? Rio de Janeiro: Editora Rocco.
  7. Levine, R(1997) Brazilian Legacies. New York: ME Sharpe.
  8. Ramos, A. G. (1966). Administração e Estratégia do Desenvolvimento: Elementos de uma Sociologia Especial da Administração. Rio de Janeiro: Fundação Getulio Vargas.
  9. Rosenn, K S (1971) The Jeito: Brazil’s Institutional By-Pass of the Formal Legal System and its Development Implications, The American Journal of Comparative Law, 19, 516-49.
  10. Levine, R(1997) Brazilian Legacies. New York: ME Sharpe.
  11. DaMatta, R (1984) O que faz o brasil, Brasil? Rio de Janeiro: Editora Rocco.
  12. Amado, G and Brasil, H V (1991). Organizational Behaviors and Cultural Context: The Brazilian “Jeitinho”, International Studies of Management and Organization, White Plains, Fall, 38-61.
  13. Duarte, F. P. (2006b). Exploring the Interpersonal Transaction of the Brazilian Jeitinho in Bureaucratic Contexts, Organization, 13(4), 509–527
  14. Freitas, A. B. (1997). Traços Brasileiros para uma Análise Organizacional, in Fernando P. Motta), & Miguel P. Caldas (Eds) Cultura Organizacional e Cultura Brazileira¸ (pp 38-54), São Paulo: Editora Atlas.
  15. Prates, M. A. & Barros, B. T. (1997). O Estilo Brasileiro de Administrar’, in Fernando P. Motta, and Miguel P. Caldas, (eds) Cultura Organizacional e Cultura Brasileira (pp. 55-69). São Paulo: Editora Atlas.
  16. Barbosa, L (1992). O Jeitinho Brasileiro: A Arte de Ser Mais Igual que os Outros¸8ª. Edição. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Campos.
  17. Barbosa, L (1992). O Jeitinho Brasileiro: A Arte de Ser Mais Igual que os Outros¸8ª. Edição. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Campos.
  18. Buarque de Hollanda, S. (1995 [1936]). Raizes do Brasil. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras.
  19. DaMatta, R (1984) O que faz o brasil, Brasil? Rio de Janeiro: Editora Rocco.
  20. DaMatta, R (1991) Carnivals, Rogues and Heroes: Toward a Sociology of the Brazilian Dilemma. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.
  21. Duarte, F. P. (2011). The Strategic Role of Charm, Simpatia and Jeitinho in Brazilian Society: A Qualitative Study, Asian Journal of Latin American Studies Vol. 24 No. 3: 29-48
  22. Duarte, F. P. (2011). The Strategic Role of Charm, Simpatia and Jeitinho in Brazilian Society: A Qualitative Study, Asian Journal of Latin American Studies Vol. 24 No. 3: 29-48
  23. Levine, R(1997) Brazilian Legacies. New York: ME Sharpe.
  24. Cavalcanti, P. (1991). A Corrupcão no Brasil. São Paulo: Siciliano.
  25. Barbosa, L (1992). O Jeitinho Brasileiro: A Arte de Ser Mais Igual que os Outros¸8ª. Edição. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Campos.
  26. Duarte, F. P. (2006a). A Double-Edged Sword: The 'Jeitinho' as an Ambiguous Concept in the Brazilian Imaginary, Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, 1(1),125-131.
  27. Barbosa, L (1992). O Jeitinho Brasileiro: A Arte de Ser Mais Igual que os Outros¸8ª. Edição. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Campos.