21 Eylül 2011 Çarşamba


Brazil is the largest country in Latin America which used to be a colony of Portuguese Empire. Football, coffee, festivals, beaches are the things that comes to our mind about Brazil first. There are many different ethnicities living together in the country, political system has changed for many times after the de-colonization till today. The current president, Lola, is coming from a worker’s organization. All of these information seem to be sufficient to understand the country for many people. However, there is much to learn about Brazil to understand it such as, the Brazilian formalism, Brazilian inequality and above all the Brazilian way: “Jeitinho”. In this paper, I will explain this way in terms of its genesis, practice, social and political importance, connection to the Brazilian formalism, its technique, and appearances of jeitinho in different cultures, and what makes it exclusive for Brazil. Before going into the main part of my essay, it would be useful to explain the term “formalism” and give some information about the general aspects of formalism.

The term formalism literally means: “strict or excessive adherence to prescribed forms” (the Oxford English Dictionary–OED) which implies to a society in which, the people are obeying laws instinctively. Roughly, we can give West-European countries, such as Germany and Great Britain, as an example for that. However, the other definition of formalism, which mostly represents the reality, is described by Fred Riggs as a result of “the Discrepancy between the prescriptive and the descriptive, between formal power and effective power, between impression that is transmitted to us by the constitutions, the laws and regulations, organizational charts and statistics, and the practical and real facts of the government and of the society.” (Riggs 1964:22) [Castor quoted in 2003]

Belmiro Castor indicates Brazil, in the sense of second definition, as a primarily formalistic country, preoccupied with appearances and unconcerned with the no correspondence of those appearances with the substance of the facts and actions. (Castor 2003; 72) The appearances are of course the rules and laws, or in other words, what is prescribed by the authorities. Apart from that, in Latin America especially in Brazil, and in Iberian Island the likelihood of seeing this “prescriptions” is much clearer than the other parts of world, because the prescriptions have been considered as the solutions of the problems. This means that, when the authorities of those countries face with problems in the administrations, institutions, economy, even more in the society, they try to solve these problems by making laws and rules. As a result, all aspects of the government, state, even social life is swollen by bureaucracy (Levine 1997; 81) we can say that, in Brazil every dimensions of life are encompassed by the formalities, in contrary; none of them is actually working. The system has different treats among individuals according to who they were. (Levine 1997; 81) For instance about inequalities, in Brazilian law, there are serious penalties for act of racism and racial discrimination; however blacks, Indians and the other minorities are discriminated somehow, in many aspects of their lives. (See Castor 2003; 72)

If we look at inequalities from socio-economic perspective, we will see the nearly extreme form of it in the ultimate level. It is best to describe it with an example, the formalistic character of Brazilian economy –appears and professes to be capitalist and free market economy, yet for many years there was no competition in the Brazilian market due to powerful group of state-owned corporations –caused the social and economic domination of elites. “The poorest Brazilians often were excluded entirely from the system and the social benefits it provided because, as marginals living below the thin safety net provided for salaried workers, they lacked proper papers. This problem was severest during the military dictatorship, when police frequently stopped people randomly and arrested them or beat them if they were found to be without papers. "Without identity documents," a large billboard in downtown Rio near the bus station proclaimed in 1969, "you do not exist." In the interior of the country, patronage politics maintained almost complete control of social and economic exchange.(Levine 1997; 83) the elites on the other hand, enjoyed the unequal distribution of social benefits and civic values even they care no responsibility towards the state i.e. feeling no guilty for illegal acts, simply because the laws and rules are existing for the “non-elites”.

It is perfectly natural to see often practice of cronyism, corruption and bribe in the government, organizations and institutions, by these reasons.

So far we have seen some of Brazilian Unknowns; life is way more tough and complex for the population and often impossible to live with all these formalities. Nonetheless, the people have to live; hence they need to deal with formalism and inequalities.

Brazilians have created “a way” which is amazingly complex and hard to understand for the ‘outsiders’ called “Jeitinho”. It is a social phenomenon (Duarte 2006) also often considered as ‘institutional by-pass’. (Rosenn 1971; Levine 1997) Due to the constant use of jeitinho; “There are no dimensions in Brazilian life that are not encompassed by the’ jeito’[1](Rega 2000; 60) and the complexity, it has been theorized and conceptualized in various ways. For example, jeitinho is a strategy that has emerged to deal with the excessive formalism of Brazilian society (Ramos 1966); conceptualization of a ‘para-legal institution’ which operates in Latin American societies as a ‘escape valve’ to deal with social tensions (Campos 1966); jeitinho is an ‘institutional by-pass’ to overcome obstacles in over bureaucratized contexts (Rosenn 1971); jeitinho is a ‘peculiarly Brazilian way of being’ which emerged from specific historical conditions (Torres 1973); jeitinho is a resource for empowerment in bureaucratic settings (Abreu 1982); it is a Brazilian style of ‘social navigation’ to deal with impersonal norms (DaMatta 1984), but more accurately, jeitinho is a smart, skillful, astute “way”, in fact an “organism”, to achieve something that seems difficult to most of people, or the “capacity” to extricate oneself from a difficulty, to get something that is theoretically beyond one’s powers and resources or even illegal. (Castor 2003; 73)

Let us now see, the jeitinho practice of in real life by one example:

Mário goes to the student services of his university to obtain a student card. He goes in the afternoon, as he knows that his classmate Geraldo works there in the afternoons. Mário is told by Geraldo that it takes five working days to obtain a student card. Mário is disappointed, but doesn’t give up. He smiles, tilts his head, and in a gentle, pleading tone of voice explains that he has a sociology assignment due in five days and that he needs the student card urgently in order to borrow books from the library. Geraldo once more stresses that it takes five days and ‘rules are rules’. Very consciously maintaining the gentle, pleading tone of voice, Mário asks for a jeitinho. [Olha Geraldo, será que voce não pode dar um jeitinho pra mim?…]. Geraldo smiles and tells Mário that he will talk to his supervisor, and disappears through a door marked “Student Services Manager”. Ten minutes later he comes back to tell Mário that the library card will be ready for collection the following day. Later on, recounting the story to his friends, Mário proudly boasts: ‘O jeitinho brasileiro é infalivel!’ [The Brazilian jeitinho is infallible!]. While some of Mário’s friends see the jeitinho as a natural thing to do, others condemn it as the sort of disrespect for rules that ‘gives Brazil a bad reputation’”. (Duarte 2003; 3)

In this example of jeitinho, we have seen the typical characteristic, which Brazilians call “simpatia” (e.g. a smile, a gentle, pleading tone of voice) and the most important counterpart and completer of jeitinho, the “Pistolão” (in our example: Geraldo). Pistolão (means “big gun”) is someone with power and force that you directly or indirectly know, it can be your friend, relative or someone you know through your friend that has effective or prestigious place in an organization, institution or corporation. (Castor 2003; 73)

Jeitinho and Pistolão, after a brief analysis, are universal phenomena that exist in all cultures, (Ramos 1982; 271) in many ways. “Every country has its own “jeitinhos,” even those with a high level of civic and social organization.” (Castor 2003; 76) For instance, Italian “Arrangiarsi”, French “Debrouiller”, English “Old Boys” American “Operators”, Turkish “Torpil”, Egyptian “Baksheesh”, Iranian “Khormad”, German “trinkgeld”, Russian “vizyatha”,Indian “speed money”, Mexican “mordida” etc..

But why it is attributed only to Brazilians? To answer that question, it is needed to be known the genesis of jeitinho; where the historical, social and cultural roots are coming from? There are four possibilities, I’ve found useful, on answering this question, the first is; the connection of it with the high valuation of personal relationships characteristic of Brazilian society, and the second one is the view that the jeitinho emerged as a response to the excessive legalism and formalism of Brazilian society, inherited from its Portuguese colonizers (Rosenn 1971:517), as I partially mentioned earlier, the third possibility is the understanding of bureaucratic works as “get the things done” by the most of the members of society, and since there is a bureaucratic dysfunction arising from “bureaucratic formalism & ritualism” (Merton, 1952: 365–6) this understanding becomes the “end” of people’s action. Fourth one is the high level of inequality in the Brazilian institutions; “…When the ordinary people go to a bureaucratic organization or institution for one request the first answer they got is ‘NO!’….” (Heidemann 2010) Lastly, existence of the Gerson's law[2]: an amoral and unwritten social regulation that is widely accepted; it's okay to bribe, cheat and take advantage of every situation to get what you want. ( Tautz 2007; 35)

As it is understandable from the case of Mário (“…some of Mário’s friends see the jeitinho as a natural thing to do…”) and from listed possibilities of jeitinho’s genesis, jeitinho is accepted by the whole society –there is no real respond to jeitinho from any members of the society– and have become an important part of Brazilian culture e.g. the ones who apply or use jeitinho all the time and get their things done are respected more in the society than the ones who follow the rules:

“The social weight ascribed to this practice in Brazilian society is evident in the fact that the word ‘jeitinho’ is used specifically to describe a certain type of social interaction. People explicitly request a jeitinho by uttering the phrase ‘Da um jeitinho pra mim’ [Give me a jeitinho], taking for granted that the other person knows exactly what they mean. There is also an expectation that the jeitinho will be always granted, considering that generosity, cordiality, warmth and empathy are highly valued attributes in Brazilian society.” (Duarde, 2006)

Moreover, the jeitinho is often practiced with evaded legalities and interpretations of legalities without finding loopholes (Castor 2003; 76) in Brazil, while it is vice versa in other countries. Those are the main elements that differs jeitinho from others and in fact, what makes jeitinho exclusive for Brazil.

Jeitinho is common and accepted by all not only its social importance, the political importance is also another factor of it. Firstly both for the politicians and “the elites”, it is “the ideal way” to confirm political and administrative power and the practice of cronyism in exchange for advantages profits. Secondly, because of the relations between two individuals are considered to be more confident than the relations between an individual and the state (Lima 1996; 98), and the formal works take considerable time of people; a new class called ‘despachante’ has been emerged in the political order.

Despachante is a kind of “Mediator Corporation” between the individuals and bureaucratic organizations, usually run by some privileged families –they have a lot of influence in the system – for generations. (Heidemann 2010) Therefore, when an individual has something to do with the state, such as; passport extension, they firstly go to such organizations.

In conclusion, jeitinho is the way out from the system in which excessive legalism led to formalism. The construction of this way has already been supplied by the Brazilian culture and inequalities. Artificiality of the state, the authority and the law, in the eyes of the people granted by “the Pistolãos” and the old Brazilian adage, “Manda quem pode, obedece quem quer” [Those who can, give orders; those who want to, obey] reappeared one more time. The poor created their own laws, because they simply didn’t wanted to obey the state laws, even more; they made it accepted by the whole society. However, the laws by the poor again served more efficiently for the elites (despachante, cultural legitimization of cronyism for the politicians, bureaucrats etc.). Apart from that, we have seen the jeitinho in many different cultures and how they are different from the Brazilian one. The contrast is again caused by the same phenomena of Brazil.


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Duarte, Fernanda “The Brazilian Jeitinho as a Structural Fix: A Snapshot from an Urban Sustainability Partnership Program”, X APROS International Colloquium. 7-10. Refereed Pre-Conference Paper. Oaxaca, Mexico December 2003 http://desin-uamc.org/apros/papers/043.pdf. Web. 01 .July 2010

Heidemann, Prof. Dr. Francisco Gabriel. "Formalism and Jeitinho." State/Administrative Reforms in Brazil. Philipps-Universität. Ketzerbach 11, Institutsgebäude SR 1, Marburg. 24 June 2010. Class lecture.

Levine, Robert M.. "The Brazilian Way." Brazilian Legacies (Perspectives on Latin America and the Caribbean). Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1997. 80-111. Print.

Rega, Lourenço Stelio “Dando um Jeito no Jeitinho: Como Ser Etico Sem Deixar de ser Brasileiro”, Editora Mundo Cristão, São Paulo. 2000

Rosenn, Keith S. ‘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. 1971

Werve, Jonathan, and Carlos Tautz . "Brazil: Clinical Code." The Corruption Notebooks 2006. Nashville: Global Integrity, 2007. 35-41. Print.

[1] Jeito is another word used for the same phenomenon. Jeitinho is the diminutive form of jeito.

[2] The phrase was made famous across Brazil in a TV cigarette commercial from the 1970s and 1980s, starring Gerson, a futebol (soccer) player who was shown smoking a cigarette and saying, "Take advantage of every situation to get ahead."

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