Jugaad is Hindi for “an improvised solution bom from ingenuity and cleverness” (De Vita, 2012: 21). Sometimes referred to as “frugal innovation,” jugaad is a way to think about most of the world’s experience with and approach to infrastructure, according to Vyjajanthia Rao (2015) in an essay featured in the edited book Infrastructural Lives. Defined as “innovative, improvisational urban practices and the objects they produce as temporary “fixes” or solutions to systematic problems,” Rao (2015: 54) notes that while the dominant “decay discourse” overwhelmingly depicts infrastructure as dilapidated and falling apart, this dominant discourse provides an almost too perfect foil for the conviviality and colorfulness with which jugaad is often celebrated with.
ETHICS OF CELEBRATING JUGAAD
Celebrating jugaad, however, is not an innocent act, especially from the “outside looking in.”
If we celebrate jugaad, then we run the risk of assimilating it into the “sphere of capitalist entrepreneurship,” Rao claims, which can be neatly encapsulated in a new book Jugaad Innovation : Think Frugal, Be Flexible, Generate Breakthrough Growth by Navi Radjou, Jaideep Prabhu and Simone Ahuja, authors known for their blogging at the Harvard Business Review such as “Think like an Indian Entrepreneur.” Hence, the boat seems to have sailed. Alternatively, celebrating jugaad might lead to no change in the systems, as though these innovative adjustments to circumstances outside of anybody’s immediate control are themselves working solutions or, far worse, part of visual tapestry tourists have come to expect in certain areas, but “even more perniciously,” Rao (2015: 54) writes, such celebration “turns the conditions for contemplating necessary ethical problems into permanently speculative and provisional ones.” Though the urban ethics are far, far different, the theme sort of reminds me of a recent documentary about “street art” going mainstream called Exit through the gift shop.
IS JUGAAD JUST A “WORKAROUND,” AS WE KNOW IT IN THE WEST
I was tempted, at first, to see jugaad as “workaround“ — an important topic for infrastructure studies — just in a non-Western language. The temptation to impose categories is powerful; the temptation to explicitly not extract terminology from its originating context is at least as powerful, especially to conscientious thinkers. However, the passage on jugaad on Wikipedia gives me pause — maybe even has me thinking otherwise — here’s why: a citation-less statement indicates that while jugaad is about survival in some areas of the East and Global South, the workaround (or a “hack”) is more of an artistic statement in some areas of the West and Global North (I interpolated the regional issues there, I know they are clumsy). This begs the obvious question “when is a workaround a hack and when it is not?” but we could add a third dimension, namely, the jugaad and now ask about how individuals approach infrastructure: workaround, hack, or jugaad?
De Vita, Emma. Jugaad. Third Sector 709 (May 29, 2012): 21.
Radjou, Navi, Prabhu, Jaideep, and Ahuja, Simone. Jugaad Innovation: Think Frugal, Be Flexible, Generate Breakthrough Growth (2012).
Rao, Vyjajanthia. Infra-City in Infrastructural Lives edited by Graham and McFarlane (2015).