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O Jeitinho Brasileiro: A Arte de Ser mais Igual que os Outros by Lvia Barbosa

Review by: Jos Augusto Drummond


Luso-Brazilian Review, Vol. 32, No. 2, Culture and Ideology in the Americas: Essays in Honor
of Richard M. Morse (Winter, 1995), pp. 113-116
Published by: University of Wisconsin Press
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113

Books Reviewed

and Catholicism. My own research- conducted in Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre and
other urban centers - seems to suggest a circular and changing pattern based on the
pragmatism of Brazilians. People seem to go from one religion to another seeking
solutions to their problems. The emphasis is on finding supernaturals- saints, orixds,
spirits, or others- who will be effective intermediariesin obtaining from God what they
want. Should a Catholic saint, for example, help them attaintheir goals, they will make
a pilgrimage to his or her shrineand remain within the Catholic Church.Should they not
get what they request,however, they may turnto a Spiritistmedium, or an Umbandapaide-santo, or to the head of a Candomble.Should their requestsbe satisfied they probably
will join and/or remain a member of the group. Should they cease receiving what they
request they will turn to anotherreligion with other supernaturalswith whom they can
make exchanges for intermediacy.The resultis a patternin which people are continuously
seeking out new religions, converting and joining new groups in a pattern of constant
circulation.
In spite of these criticisms, Os Candomblesde Sao Paulo is an original and
valued contributionto the study of Brazilian society and culture.
Sidney M. Greenfield
of
Wisconsin
- Milwaukee
University
REFERENCES
Brown, Diana De G., Umbanda:Religion and Politics in UrbanBrazil (Ann Arbor:UMI
Research Press, 1986).
Greenfield, Sidney M. and Russel Prust, "PopularReligion, Patronage, and Resource
Distribution in Brazil: A Model of an Hypothesis for the Survival of the Economically
Marginal,"in M. Estellie Smith, ed., Perspectiveson the InformalEconomy. Society for
Economic Anthropology Monograph No. 8. (Washington, DC: University Press of
America, 1990), pp. 123-146.

Livia Barbosa, O Jeitinho Brasileiro - A Arte de Ser mais Igual que os Outros. Rio de
Janeiro: Editora Campus, 1992. 153 pp.
Livia Barbosa is a professor of Anthropology at the Universidade Federal
Fluminense, in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She holds a doctoral degree in
Anthropology from the Museu Nacional of Rio de Janeiro. This book is a streamlined
version of her dissertation.It is at par with the writings of Roberto DaMatta- Brazil's
ranking anthropologist, and Barbosa's adviser - in his pioneering explorations of
Brazilian culture, identity and everyday life. Barbosa writes aboutjeitinho, this crucial
component of Brazil's social and political life.
Barbosa'stext is the first book-lengthstudywrittenby a Brazilianscholarabout
the subject.Jeitinho is a well-known Portugueselanguage term indicating a special way

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Luso-BrazilianReview, 32/2

of getting arounda legal or institutionalrule. It designates the fact of someone trying to


obtain - or effectively obtaining - something without the proper observance of
established rules, and with the requested assistance of somebody else. It is the average
Brazilian's call for help in getting something done faster or easier than if the applicable
impersonalrulesarefollowed. Significantly,jeitinho defies propertranslationinto English.
The closest expressions I know are "tofind a way around","topull some strings",and "to
give [somebody] a break." The American writer Keith Rosen has used "institutional
bypass"to define jeitinho in a way acceptable to legal scholarship.
All four expressions fall short, however, of capturingthe meat ofjeitinho both
as a social ritual and as an icon of Brazilian social identity. Barbosa demonstrates at
length thatjeitinho is a crucial practical tool and a guiding symbol for everyday life in
Brazil. It is also a broad "window"for scientific understandingof the "intimacy"of
Brazilian social relationships.Almost every Brazilian has asked for ajeitinho, with or
without success, and most Brazilianshave an urge to say something transcendentalabout
it. Barbosalooks throughthis window and listens to what Brazilians have to say about it,
with very interesting results.
First she screens the meager literatureonjeitinho, statingeach title's merits and
introducingher own distinct perspectiveand contributions.The most importantpoint she
makes in this section is thatjeitinho is not a "backward"or "traditional"cultural trait
condemnedto extinction by some form of modernizationor change.Jeitinho,she sustains,
is a deeply ingrained and persistent trait that has adjusted very well to the recent
modernizationof Brazilian society. In other words, neither individualisticliberalism, nor
redemocratization,norprogressivesocialism is pushingjeitinhoout of the picture.It might
not be there to stay, but it is definitely not on the way out.
Barbosa's pioneering contribution to the anthropological understanding of
jeitinho goes well beyond her insightful review of the literature. It relies mainly on
extensive fieldwork and research,on her theoretical and conceptual perspectives, and on
her comparative framework. During four years, Barbosa interviewed a few hundred
Brazilians from all walks of life, probingtheir opinions about and their uses ofjeitinho.
She also collected hundredsofjeitinho episodes directly from informantsand as depicted
in the media. She tracedthe use of the term in 44 Braziliandictionariesand in many titles
of fiction and chronicles. Having lived in the United States and in Europe before starting
her research,Barbosaalso used many data and insights derived from experiences of nonBrazilians with jeitinho. This is a massive and original ethnography.
Barbosa'stheoretical outlook and conceptual frameworkare influenced mostly
by two authors:Louis Dumont's cross-culturalstudies of hierarchyand individualism in
the modem world and Roberto DaMatta's research into the depths of the Brazilian
national identity. Dumont's focus on the fate of modem individualism introduced in
"holistic"societies is used by Barbosa to define Brazilian society's particularblend of
individualismandhierarchy.The entire book can, in fact, be read as a companionvolume
to DaMatta'slandmarkstudyof anotherimportantBraziliansocial ritual,embodied in the
question "doyou know who you are speakingwith?".WhereasDaMatta'squestion-ritual
embodies inequality and authoritarianism,asking for ajeitinho is persuasively depicted
by Barbosa as a ritual of equality and diffuse reciprocity.
Not incidentally,BarbosadistinguishesjeitinhofromapparentlysimilarBrazilian
ritual interactions,such as outrightcorruptionand favoritism. This precise identification
is in fact one her most importantcontributionsto earlier studies, especially those by
foreigners, who almost invariablymake the mistake of equatingjeitinho with favoritism

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Books Reviewed

and corruption.As Barbosashows, corruptionnecessarily involves a monetaryadvantage


to the stronger side of an exchange, while favors imply both a degree of personal
acquaintancebetween the actors and a personal debt of one in relation to the other.
Barbosa shows clearly that jeitinho, quite distinctly, implies no acts of
corruptionandthat it can well be performedbetween actorswith no personalacquaintance
at all. Neither does it create personal obligations of reciprocity, although each person
asking for it presupposesthat the potential grantorwill be "rewarded"somewhere and
somehow down the line. This is indicated by a catch-phrasethat many informantsused
to justify their requestof ajeitinho: "onehand washes the other."In fact, typical cases of
jeitinho imply anonymous, one-time-only and almost fortuitous encounters between
common citizens and public officials or private sector workers in the context of large,
anonymous bureaucratic or business institutions. The distinction between jeitinho,
corruptionand favor is, therefore, not at all picky.
Interestingly enough, Barbosa uncovered what is her most importantfinding
from
pure serendipity. It was importantenough for her to put it into the book's
partly
title. She argues that jeitinho is not only a ritual, but also an important symbol for
Brazilians, a quintessentialpart of the Brazilian self-identity. Seemingly, this was not a
working hypothesis. She discovered this mostly because so many of her informants
volunteered a strong tie between the ritual and the country's culture.
So Barbosa's text engagingly evolves from the ethnographyof jeitinho as a
substantialritual- complete with its techniques, its vocabulary,its properattitudesand
its typical characters- to the examinationof thejeitinho brasileiro as a symbol, i.e., as
a cornerstone of the Brazilian national identity as "autonomously"constructed by
Braziliansthemselves. Barbosaconsidersboth "positive"and "negative"discoursesabout
this identity trait, showing how deeply controversialit is. Different Brazilians use their
distinct interpretationsofjeitinho to expresseitherrosy optimism or deep pessimism about
their society and country. Even those who disagree with Barbosa about this finding will
have to admit that speaking about jeitinho definitely touches a raw nerve in many
Brazilians.
A last asset of the book is its comparative framework. In order to get to the
deeper implications of jeitinho in Brazil's political life, Barbosa contrasts Brazil's
particular blend of cultural and political traits - basically "Iberianfamilism" plus
"Rousseaunianegalitarianism"- with Lockean individualismand social contractualism
typical of Anglo-Saxon countries. Besides making a quite original comparativeanalysis
in itself (especially about Brazilians' aggressive rejection of individual merit and
performance as a legitimate basis for measuring differences between people), Barbosa
succeeds in showing how jeitinho is entirely "functional"(the expression is mine) in
smoothing the edges of many impersonal regulations and laws that pervade some
dimensions of Brazilian society.
Barbosa's book convinced me of three importantthings. First,jeitinho is in
Brazil to stay for a long time, independentlyof any "macro"change or outcome in its
social and economic structure.Second, for most Brazilians and for many years to come,
"citizenship"will continue to be a matter of asking forjeitinhos and favors, or of being
coopted by the "right"powerful individual or group, rather than of fighting for or
effectively exercising universal, impersonalrights. Brazilians definitely prefer "special"
treatment than to take chances with "equality."Third, Brazil has already become "too
modem" in its economy and institutionsforjeitinho to be even marginally effective in
macro-processesof allocating social values. In other words, even if persistenton a micro

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level, it is increasingly"dysfunctional"or is yielding "diminishingreturns"for the society


as a whole.
The only thing missing in Barbosa's text is a more detailed and explicit use of
jeitinho episodes. Rarely does she share with her readers actual, detailed examples of
jeitinhos, although she must have collected hundredsof them. Many of her arguments
could be more easily conveyed and better illustratedby systematic references to cases
collected in her lengthy ethnography.Also, her lively text would be enrichedby the array
of anecdotes collected, certainly filled with colorful tones. She could probably write
anothercaptivatingand much needed volume consisting solely of narrationsand analyses
of such anecdotes.This void in the text can be particularlyfrustratingfor foreign students
of the Brazilian scene who still have not witnessed or graspedthe importanceofjeitinho,
of "do you know who you are speaking with?", of favoritism, of corruptionand other
"intimate"rituals of Brazilian life.
Barbosa's book is very good and easy to read. It will interest even those who
have never gone to Brazil or never had the first-handexperience of jeitinho. It can and
should be read by all those who are interested in Brazil, for information, reflection,
controversy or pure fun. It can also be used by instructorsin introductoryor advanced
courses on Brazilian or Latin American culture, and in advancedcourses of comparative
culturalstudies. As RobertoDaMattawould have it, Barbosahas much to say about "what
makes Brazil, Brazil."
Jose Augusto Drummond
Universidade Federal Fluminense

Michael Hanchard,Orpheusand Power: TheMovimentoNegro of Rio de Janeiro and Sao


Paulo, Brazil, 1945-1988. Princeton,N.J.: PrincetonUniversity Press, 1994. ix-x, 203 pp.
ISBN 0-691-03292-0, hardbound.
If by now the myth of Brazilian racial democracy still persists as a commonly
held perceptionamong non specialists it has not preventedthe revisionist researchon this
topic from maturingon its own. One sign of this maturityis the appearanceof works by
scholars whose training lies outside the discipline of history, which has dominated the
revisionist field in the United States for two decades. One example of this growing
maturity is the work of political scientist Michael Hanchard.Hanchard'sis a conscious
effort to use a theoreticalframeworkgroundedexplicitly in the studyof politics to explain
certain nagging questions remaining in the wake of the erosion of the racial democracy
myth in academic circles.
Hanchard's concern is with the possibilities for and constraints on Black
activism. He poses the question of why Afro-Brazilianactivism seems to possess less of
a resonancethan it does in other multiracialsocieties. Hanchardattemptsto explore this
problem with a frameworkthat yields a fairly sophisticated answer.

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