When I started grad school, I received the good advice to create 10-second, 30-second, and 2-minute spiels in response to, "And what is your research about?" I received the advice, but I didn't follow it. I have a 5-second spiel - "Alternative agricultural land tenure in Saskatchewan" (I talk fast) - and then I have a lot of flailing about as I add explanations and qualifications.
Truth is, I don't know why I ended up focusing on land. I remember having to come up with an idea for a grant application at the same time as I was reading Pierre-Joseph Proudhon ("property and robbery are synonymous terms") for a class on theories of justice, just months after my father passed away and left the state of the family farm in limbo. Out of that stew, an idea about land emerged. And then it mutated.
If you've ever had to explain to an 18-month old why he can't walk across a neighbour's lawn, you might realize how ridiculous ideas about property are. If you go on to read Locke, you realize his ideas about labour and property conveniently justified dispossession of aboriginal peoples. Then when Jun Borras tells you that property rights are not things, but social relationships, you get interested. And when, with Jennifer Franco, he tells you that "Ultimately, food sovereignty is about effective control over wealth and power", you get excited.
So. Today, I am starting a draft of my thesis, trying to sift through my data and analyses, trying to unite all the pieces that I have written for classes and conference presentations, trying most of all to sieve out all of the fascinating, but unfortunately unrelated, food systems information I have amassed in the past two years. Trying to focus.
I'll let you know what my research turns out to be about. Then I'll answer the question I posed in the title.