Jugaad Time: Ecologies of Everyday Hacking in India

Jugaad Time: Ecologies of Everyday Hacking in India

by Amit S. Rai

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In India, the practice of jugaad—finding workarounds or hacks to solve problems—emerged out of subaltern strategies of negotiating poverty, discrimination, and violence but is now celebrated in management literature as a disruptive innovation. In Jugaad Time Amit S. Rai explores how jugaad operates within contemporary Indian digital media cultures through the use of the mobile phone. Rai shows that despite being co-opted by capitalism to extract free creative labor from the workforce, jugaad is simultaneously a practice of everyday resistance, as workers and communities employ hacks to oppose corporate, caste, and gender power. Locating the tensions surrounding jugaad—as both premodern and postdigital, innovative and oppressive—Rai maps how jugaad can be used to undermine neoliberal capitalist media ecologies and nationalist politics.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781478002543
Publisher: Duke University Press
Publication date: 02/05/2019
Series: ANIMA: Critical Race Studies Otherwise
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 232
File size: 20 MB
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About the Author

Amit S. Rai is Senior Lecturer in New Media and Communication at the School of Business and Management, Queen Mary University of London. He is the author of Untimely Bollywood: Globalization and India's New Media Assemblage, also published by Duke University Press, and the coeditor of InterMedia in South Asia: The Fourth Screen.

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"Frugal Innovation" and the Workaround Ecologies of Postcolonial Practice

The event in the strong sense of the word is therefore always a surprise, something which takes possession of us in an unforeseen manner, without warning, and which brings us towards an unanticipated future. — F. DASTUR, Phenomenology of the Event

Jugaad innovators ... constantly employ flexible thinking and action in response to the seemingly insurmountable problems they face in their economies: they are constantly experimenting and improvising solutions for the obstacles they face, and adapting their strategies to new contingencies as they arise. ... The sheer diversity, volatility, and unpredictability of economic life in emerging markets demands flexibility on the part of jugaad innovators. It demands that they think outside of the box, experiment, and improvise: they must either adapt or die. — N. RADJOU, J. PRABHU, and S. AHUJA, Jugaad Innovation

Introduction: Improvisation and Contingency, or the Affect of Jugaad

This chapter engages the ongoing conversation around piracy in postcolonial media studies and social geography across three areas. First, focusing on the ecological processes of the social practice of jugaad (workaround), I show how its strategic deployment, production of time-spaces, and digital media assemblages habituate heterogeneous populations in India toward innovation. Developing work in postphenomenology and nonrepresentational analyses, I draw out what researchers have called the technicity of affect (following Ash 2010, 2013; Clough 2010, 2018; Heidegger 1962, 1977; Mackenzie 2001; Massumi 2002, 2011, 2015a; Stiegler 1998; Thrift 2005, 2006). The social practice of jugaad allows human-technical assemblages to intervene specifically in the material contexts of (in)subordination through various forms of technology. Second, to understand both the event and the ecology of jugaad, I turn to an important concept in postcolonial criticism, that of translation, to understand how the affects of jugaad are translated as both habit and its modulation. The relevance of postcolonial media studies for postphenomenal affect studies will also be argued for throughout this chapter through a consideration of the materiality of subaltern agency itself, translated through an "ethological" or ecological frame (Ash 2013, ; Deleuze and Guattari 1987; Manning 2013). Human agency is shown to be distributed across material, technical, and intensive objects and processes (Shaviro 2014). Finally, by developing strategic feedbacks between postcolonial media studies and affect studies, I draw out the political and methodological implications of this analysis for nonrepresentational and postphenomenological methods of affective ethnography.

This chapter articulates affect with the everyday practice of jugaad, or frugal innovation, in India. From a marginal practice of subaltern communities (and marginal to the normal legal subject before the law) jugaad has become an important affective atmosphere ("a term that refers to the circulation of perturbations to produce space times local to technical objects" [Ash 2013, 20; Michels and Steyaert 2017) in India's postliberalization sensorium [i.e., roughly post-1991]). Its extralegal connotations translated into "disruptive innovation," jugaad is enthusiastically celebrated as frugal creativity in contemporary Indian management and marketing discourses and practices, as well as across the representational strategies of "digital cool" circulated in the old and new media (Mankekar 2015; Nayar 2012; Sundaram 2009). This capture aims to incorporate jugaad into the intensification of work in neoliberal India: use what you have to innovate; don't rely on patronage from the Ma-Baap (parental) state (Guha 1983); take inspiration from the entrepreneurial aura of the acche din (good days) of an India Shining (for upper caste Hindus) (Boddy et al. 2015). In everyday practice, jugaad is performed when conditions of work or life come up against obstacles. In this sense, the affect of jugaad is the capacity to move from a state of relative inaction or blockage to an improvisational situation.

While the reigning popular discourse on jugaad is a moral-individual one (see Kumar 2009), in which the ideology of agency in the jugaad lies firmly in the moral decisions of the individualized, impoverished, debilitated, and/or frugal tinkerer, this chapter draws out the distributed nature of jugaad across its associated contexts and shifting human and nonhuman time-spaces. As such, jugaad is understood as an event in the affective processes of an ecological assemblage of carbon- and silicon-based life. The importance of jugaad as a focus for postphenomenal geography and affective ethnography lies in the way the practice articulates the interstices between elite and subaltern life, postcolonial studies and affect studies, subaltern workaround cultures and neoliberal strategies of frugal innovation. Indeed, the term jugaad comes out of subaltern, or "nonelite," strategies of negotiating conditions characterized by extreme poverty, discrimination, and violence, which, rather than competing or winning, are experiments in getting over the next hurdle confronting socially and economically disadvantaged communities. In this chapter, I elaborate forms of jugaad practice that Elizabeth Povinelli, following Michel Foucault, calls "subjugated knowledges" which are "mixtures of rituals and makeshifts (bricolages), manipulations of spaces, operators of networks" (Benjamin 2011; Chatterjee 1995; de Certeau 1984, xiv–xvi; Foucault 2003, 2008; Gupta 2012; Marx 2010; Pandey 1990; Povinelli 2016; Prakash 1990); the event of a jugaad emerges from social microcosms that are structured by intersecting wills to power, properties, relations, and processes in which actions are governed by often nonstandard logic and organized according to practical life without having any official rule boundaries (Bourdieu 1996, 226–227). The affect of jugaad translates power differentials across capitalist innovation and subaltern practices of everyday life in India today (Cohn 1987; Guha 1983; Larkin 2008; Scott 1985). Focusing on the deployment of jugaad in both mobile phone marketing and everyday practice, this chapter argues that the "controlled contingency" of marketing discourse is constantly being exceeded by the changing capacities and habituations of mobile phone users. However, contemporary business discourse positions the practice of jugaad as what innovation must become in the new global economy after the 2008 financial downturn. For instance, Navi Radjou andcolleagues, in their popular management book Jugaad Innovation: Think Frugal, be Flexible, Generate Breakthrough Growth (2012), define "jugaad" for entrepreneurs as constituted by six basic principles: seek opportunity in adversity, do more with less, think and act flexibly, keep it simple, include the margins, and follow your heart (19–20). These management academics and social entrepreneurs offer up jugaad practices to drive a firm's resilience, frugality, adaptability, simplicity, inclusivity, empathy, and passion, "all of which are essential to compete and win a complex world" (20). While business scholars have deployed jugaad as an image of competitive advantage in a time of austerity, multiple and often surprising systems of value emerge from the practice of jugaad in everyday life. The intersection between the macro business rhetoric that claims jugaad as innovation and the everyday practice of subaltern consumers is analyzed in this chapter to understand affect as spatial and economic, as well as embedded in ordinary experiences of "Indian" frugality, precarity, and agency.

To understand this more concretely, let us briefly consider an event of jugaad performed by Haier, a Chinese consumer goods company, cited by Radjou and others (2012; see also Chen et al. 2013). When the company learned about the clogged drainpipes in its washing machines, purchased by rural customers who were using the machines to wash vegetables (a widespread jugaad across rural China), employees began innovating devices with wider pipes that could handle washing vegetables, and eventually further modifying the machines so that they could peel them as well. Such innovation-oriented customer service has given Haier a larger market share in the fast-growing consumer goods market in China.

In this example, the everyday practice of repurposing the capacities of the washing machine is translated into the corporate condition of technological innovation and adaptability to contingency. In a complex feedback that constantly displaces the dichotomy between intellectual and manual labor, the farmer's habitual jugaad eventually produces new habits through newly innovated technologies, which in turn proliferates a culture of jugaad in the firm. For the firm, then, the circulation of jugaad as an affective disposition or atmosphere of being primed as "nimble-minded and nimble-footed" in the context of "emerging markets, which are characterized by extreme unpredictability," allows for an ongoing recalibration of the consumer sensorium through innovation (Radjou et al. 2012, 94; Adorno 2013; Ash 2013; Harrison 2000; Massumi 2002; Michels and Steyaert 2017). In this example, the literal blockage of the drainpipes is cleared up through specific kinds of jugaad at different scales of practice (farmer, firm, market share) and through different technologies (washing machine, drainpipes, modified drum) and materials (vegetables, soil, water). These different scales, materials, and technologies are involved in translating and synthesizing unequal relations of power and structures of exploitation in contexts also characterized by extreme poverty (Asad 1975; Bassnett and Trivedi 1999; Berardi 2009a; Bhabha 1984; Cheyfitz 1991; Haraway 1987; Niranjana 1992). The subaltern farmer and the value-adding firm are related through different forms of power, accumulation, interests, and value; as Radjou and colleagues (2012, 94) note, most firms would declare the warranty, and so any access to customer service would be void due to the misuse of the machine, whereas for the farmer economizing on time, water, and labor the jugaad of repurposing the machine frees up scarce resources, one of which is time itself. If, recalling my definition of affect as embodied passage, a materialist diagram of such jugaad events will follow the durations that gradually stabilize in its wake, it is in translating and synthesizing the extralegal jugaad into a viable and scalable value proposition through innovating new machines that the firm is able to extract both more surplus value from the machines and secure new consumer segments.

Or consider another example of jugaad in practice, the relation between mobile phones and the language of "missed calls" that has emerged in many parts of India. Since around 40 percent of subscribers have no more than Rs. 5 on their phone, and without resources to "top up," a new jugaad emerged: give a missed call to communicate with an interlocutor. Costing nothing (following the shift to the "calling party pays" system of accounting in the early 2000s, the caller would hang up before the call is answered), the missed call communicates through the network despite the caller's lack of resources. This is a simple example of the emergence of a jugaad; from the obstacle of a phone without credit, a form of communication remains functional. Unlike in the example of the Haier washing machines, here there is nothing specifically extralegal in the jugaad, but a new workaround develops, bypassing the limitations of resources.

Following Kevin Hart, John-David Dewsbury and James Ash, whose researches into contingency and event have had an important impact on recent work in human geography that theorizes how affect is constitutive of and woven into everyday life (Anderson and Wylie 2009; Ash 2010; Dewsbury 2000, 2003; Harrison 2000; Massumi 2011; McCormack 2007), this chapter aims to emphasize the "more than human" phenomenality of jugaad by shifting attention away from jugaad as a discrete object or event that appears for human consciousness toward how and with what affects jugaad emerges ecologically (Hart, K. 2007, 39). I ask, what are the processes by which jugaad events come to be both "potentially intelligible for consciousness" (Ash 2012, 188) and a potentialization of jugaad's ecology itself? Throughout, I refer to affect in the Deleuzian sense: as the durational passage from one state to another in an encounter between two or more bodies (human or nonhuman, organic or inorganic), which either increases or decreases a body's capacity for action (Deleuze 1988b; also see Ash 2013, 188; Clough and Halley 2007; DeLanda 2002, 62; Manning 2013; Massumi 2002, 2011; Rai 2009). Affect is the bodily capacity to sense and act; more a transitional duration than a fixed state, affect is the event-potential activated in and through the passage from one state to another. As such, affect involves both contingency and its history in any given context of interactivity between humans, technology, and biopolitical life (Ash 2010, 2012; Thrift 2004).

The analysis of affective geographies has helped to reframe the bodily experiences of boredom (Anderson 2004, 2005) and (dis)comfort (Bissell 2008, 2009) and skilled practices such as gaming, art, mobile phones, and busking (Ash 2010, 2012, 2013; Bogost 2006; Massumi 2002, 2011; Simpson 2008, 2009). However, as Ash notes within geography much less work has been conducted on the ways in which affect can be actively manipulated for commercial and economic ends in the design and production of consumer services and goods (see Ash 2010, 654). By taking the intentional and personal subject out of phenomenality, Ash's work focuses on the affective encounters between humans and technologies in order to develop an understanding of technology as generative of inorganically organized affect, which enters into and reorganizes the affective thresholds of the body (Roelvink and Zolkos 2015; Dale and Latham 2015; Duberley et al. 2017; Duff 2010; Gascoigne et al. 2015). It is through such "turbulent" affective processes that the spatiotemporal dimensions of sense are organized. In this view, phenomenality encompasses the past, present, and future as specific modes of potential and how "these modes are actively fixed for human perception as a kind of spatiotemporal envelope through a variety of body–technology assemblages" (Ash 2012, 188; Ash 2013). In short, the phenomenality of jugaad shifts attention to the ways in which these processes operate and become habitual in local socialities and contexts. Differentiating itself from most postcolonial media studies that continue to focus subaltern agency on the intentional subject, this chapter attempts a renewed understanding of postcolonial translation as distributed and ecological processes of converting movement, contingency, and matter into specific kinds of value.

This chapter draws on ethnographic work on mobile phone ecologies in Mumbai and Delhi between 2009 and 2017. In interviews with mobile value-added services (MVAS) executives, sim card vendors, mobile phone repair workers, everyday mobile phone users, and media sociologists, the word "jugaad" came up repeatedly to describe both what the human–mobile phone assemblage could do, and what one needed to do to get the most out of that assemblage (that is, to get over an obstacle, get the thing moving). The problem that is posed in the increasing acceptance of jugaad as an everyday practice of nonelites in India and as a business model for global firms is explored in this study through methods drawn from discourse analysis, affective ethnography, and mapping ecologies (processes of emergent properties, and ecologies that mutate through creative evolution — Bergson 2012; DeLanda 2002, 2010; Warf 1990).

While the focus in this chapter is on the volatile context of the Indian mobile phone ecology, the broader implications for a radical diagrammatics of affect will be explored in this and subsequent chapters. If mobile phone practices are enabled by specific affective environments, the embodiment of this space in different forms of affect, or capacity, is both crucial to its marketing and its mutations. To think through the affective dispositions of play in jugaad with the assemblage of mobile media sweeping across India today, I focus on its emergence as a habituated sensory-motor circuit of mobile digitality (Ash 2010; Massumi 2011, 89; McCormack 2005). Through a jugaad, a place of obstacles to work, value, or desire becomes a relatively potentialized, improvisational, and contingent space through the mobilization of whatever resources are to hand. The argument is that jugaad ecologies affect a passing from stasis (obstacle, interdiction, hurdle, blockage, problem) to improvisation (passage, event, contingency, value, movement), and translating new or added value from this affective passage is an aim of contemporary mobile phone business practices drawing on jugaad.


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Table of Contents

Preface  ix
Acknowledgments  xix
Introduction. A Political Ecology of Jugaad  1
Fables of the Reinvention I. Toward a Universal History of Hacking  39
1. The Affect of Jugaad: "Frugal Innovation" and the Workaround Ecologies of Postcolonial Practice  45
2. Neoliberal Assemblages of Perception and Digital Media in India  68
Fables of the Reinvention II. New Desiring Machines  102
3. Jugaad Ecologies of Social Reproduction  106
4. Diagramming Affect: Smart Cities and Plasticity in India's Informal Economy  128
Fables of the Reinvention III. A Series of Minor Events  150
Conclusion. Jugaad Jugaading: Time, Language, Misogyny in Hacking Ecologies  153
Notes  167
References  175
Index  203

What People are Saying About This

Network Culture: Politics for the Information Age - Tiziana Terranova

"Jugaad Time is an important intervention into cartographies of postdigital media cultures. By drawing on the specificity of South Asian cultures, it enriches our understanding of the heterogeneity of these processes. The postcolonial study of media technologies is a vibrant and crucial field of inquiry; Amit S. Rai's outstanding work is an essential contribution to global approaches to new media scholarship."

Unsettling India: Affect, Temporality, Transnationality - Purnima Mankekar

"This original and innovative work will enable a new and perhaps paradigm-shattering interpretation of the coimplication of digital assemblages, temporality, and affect. Drawing on a rich ethnographic archive, Amit S. Rai is deeply sensitive to how gender, class, and caste are implicated in emergent techno-perceptual assemblages. His invaluable book is also an effective antidote to the Eurocentricity of digital media studies."

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