On the meanings of writing and publication

"publication is the auction of the mind of man"

These words, penned by Emily Dickinson, sometimes keep me up at night.  Her words take me back to the reflexive musings of Deborah Appleman found in the chapter, "are you making me famous, or are you making me a fool?" Here, Appleman reflects on the ways in which she has represented the youth whose lives she has studied as part of her language and literacy research. She wonders about the weight of her representational actions; words that freeze in time the dynamic and shifting identities and lives of youth who, in many ways, have been the object of stultifying representations in the past.

What do we do when we "publish our research"? What does the act of publication mean for those of us who call ourselves researchers, whose identities are wrapped up in the business and art of storying the lives of others (and perhaps by proxy, ourselves)?  When we move from initial notations of our observations to narrative accounts of "what happened" or "who someone is"?  How might we compose with intentional fluidity and fluid intentionality?  Whose lives are auctioned when we publish? And with the possibility of collateral damage, what are the possibilities for...what? What do we gain when we publish? Do we distribute knowledge? Further reify or discursively disrupt?

During a recent seminar discussion with colleagues, while discussing texts - whose forms locate them on the margins of my daily readings, yet whose meanings are familiar - we considered the distinction between "writing as reporting" and "writing as enacted inquiry".  What vulnerabilities do we risk when we step aside from a 'disembodied voice of authority' to reveal our own discursive hesitations?  Is there an audience for writing that reveals rather than merely reports?  Writing that seeks to educate through invitation rather than obfuscation? 

Dickinson's words haunt me, but so, too, do they keep me alert - alert to the ways I put pen on paper, fingers on keyboard to produce words that claim to tell a story about the multi-storied lives of the young men and women who share their stories with me.  Where does that leave the ethnographer: as a storyteller?  Storymaker?  Storybreaker?  Are we making meaning?  Constructing knowledge(s)? Representing our ways of knowing?

Within the frame of publication, therefore, can we imagine or move toward publication that does not cause us to sell our souls?  (or to recall, with chagrin, the sins of our (publishing) infancy?)  What is it to publish, to make public, particularly from within the university? At times, it feels like a dance performed ever-so-delicately through norms and assumptions, skeptics and critics, our communities and naysayers, with the goal of remaining standing long enough to learn another step.  Do we risk paralysis in our writing when we focus on publication?