Shares & Sharing is a study of the Gambian town of Farafeñe, a rural centre inhabited by agriculturalists and merchants. The main concern is to explore local notions of identity and relatedness, and, to show how relationships of material and immaterial exchange provide arenas for negotiating identity, power and prestige. The thesis focuses on social organization with particular emphasis on a set of social categories which are ordinarily known as "castes" or "occupational groups/categories" in West African ethnography. By way of an analysis of exchange, it shows how power, rank, and identity are negotiated in inter-"caste" relations. In order to make explicit some points about social organization and belonging in Farafeñe more generally, it also analyses exchange and identity in social arenas defined in terms of kinship, descent, co-residence, and ethnicity.
The thesis questions some general assumptions in anthropological literature about forms of social organization, concerning rank and ranking and the ways in which social relationships are formed and reproduced, of West African societies. Most of the literature on West African "caste" societies has been preoccupied with formal aspects of social structures, and relatively less attention is paid to the dynamic processes in which meaning, identity, and relationships are negotiated. A view frequently stated is that West African "castes" form a rigid, or fixed hierarchy, in which not only the social positions but also relationships between them are determined by birth or "blood". This study shows, in contrast to this view, that cross-"caste" relationships are dynamic, constantly negotiated, and that outcomes of these negotiations cannot be predicted from formal structures of birth given statuses alone. The same is the case of relationships defined in terms of kinship, co-residence, and ethnicity.
Throughout the chapters, a general pattern of how people attach themselves to others, build and perpetuate relationships, is deduced. This pattern may be summed up in the concepts of sharing and exchange. People build and maintain relationships through sharing and exchange: in the form of "support" and acts of "caring for" someone or in the form of money, food, agricultural produce, labour, praise (griots), acts which ensure fertility (by smiths), and knowledge in various forms. Significantly, people also justify and explain their affiliation to others, and assert claims, with reference to prestations and exchange in the past. In turn, exchange and sharing provide arenas for negotiating identity and power.