First Advisor

Julius McGee

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Sociology and University Honors




American ginseng, Commodification, American ginseng industry




American Ginseng, Panax quinquefolius, is a plant endemic to Eastern North America. It has an almost three century long history of being exported from North America both as a plant harvested from the wild and cultivated on farms. During this time, the plant has been identified as being at risk for becoming endangered by organizations such as CITES (the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species) and various policies have been set in place to track trade and control ginseng harvest. Many scholars currently studying the ecology and conservation of American ginseng use a tragedy of the commons framework established by Garret Hardin in order to understand the problem of ginseng scarcity and make recommendations for policies. The problem with this framework is that it naturalizes the socioeconomic context these ecological tragedies occur in and functions more to control harvesters’ actions than to affect the total harvest and export of American ginseng. Through a historical analysis of the commodification of American ginseng informed by the theory established by Stefano B. Longo, Rebecca Clausen, and Brett Clark in their book The Tragedy of the Commodity: Oceans, Fisheries, and Aquaculture (2015), this work demonstrates that ginseng scarcity is a problem of commodification rather than a problem of open access.


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