A complete Strategy For Anthropology - UPSC

Anthropology as an Optional

In UPSC Civil service exam Optional subject plays an important role in your final selection. However, when you decide to prepare for UPSC CSE the biggest dilemma you will come across is which optional subject to choose from the list of optional subjects given in UPSC CSE notification. To help you overcome this dilemma and to make a rational choice, we have come up with a complete guide to various popular optional.

In this article, we will be talking about Anthropology and will try to analyse the various aspects of Anthropology from UPSC CSE point of view. We will comprehensively cover the headings mentioned below. This will help you decide whether to opt for Anthropology or not and if you decide to choose the subject, how you can approach the subject to prepare well for the exam.

  • What is Anthropology?
  • Why is Anthropology popular among aspirants?
  • Overlap with General studies
  • Timeline for Preparation
  • Subject performance over the years
  • Question paper trend analysis for last three years
  • Anthropology Topic wise strategy
  • Importance of current affairs in Anthropology
  • Answer Writing
  • Challenges of Anthropology
  • Booklist for Anthropology
  • The Relevance of Anthropology for an Administrator
  • Anthropology Paper 1 and Paper 2 Important Topics

What is Anthropology?

Anthropology is the study of human beings at all places, at all times, in totality. The subject studies every aspect of human beings like social, economic, political and biological aspects. It is easy to understand, grasp and express. The subject matter of the optional is interesting and can be covered in a limited amount of time. It has some aspects of biology and anatomy. It also has social topics in it like marriage, family, kinship. Therefore it is a holistic and comparative science. For an administrator, anthropological knowledge is essential in informed decision making.

Why is Anthropology optional popular among aspirants?

The Anthropology optional is scoring, compared to other optionals. Easy availability of study material, guidance, test series makes the optional popular. The Anthropology syllabus can be completed in 3-4 months. The optional also helps in other papers like the essay, general studies etc. Topics related to physical anthropology are not subjective hence gives scope for scoring high marks. There has been no change in the subject as a whole in the last 20 years or so academically, and we don t expect any drastic changes in the syllabus and the way paper has been set for years.

Naveen Mallaparu - AIR 75- Preparation Strategy and Tips for Anthropology Optional

Overlap with General Studies

Overlap with General Studies paper 1 - Indian society (Diversity in India), History of development of tribal India. Paper 2 of anthropology will provide in-depth information on Indian society, especially tribal India.

Overlap with General Studies paper 2 - Social Justice, Constitutional safeguards, mechanisms, developments related to Scheduled tribes, scheduled castes and OBCs.

Overlap with General Studies paper 3 - Environment, Role of media, Inclusive growth, Development vs Conservation, Planning issues, Problems of tribals and consequences, Internal security challenges ( Left-wing extremism).

Overlap with General Studies paper 4 - Case studies can be answered from an anthropological perspective. By giving information on nature of humans and their society anthropology helps in better decision making when one faces an ethical dilemma.

The relevance of Anthropology in the general studies paper 4 - Ethics, Integrity and aptitude

Anthropology is a humanistic science. Hence anthropology and ethics are very much related. Empathy and compassion are quintessential qualities of an anthropologist. Anthropology talks about culture and ethics is an essential aspect of society. Various concepts in anthropology like holism, cultural relativism, Functional equilibrium model and ethical approach will help in addressing a dilemma that will be faced by an administrator. Therefore case studies can be approached uniquely.

Timeline for Preparation

The syllabus needs to be covered well in advance before Prelims to be able to revise effectively, as anthropology optional requires lots of data to be memorised. Hence ideal time to start preparation would be 7-8 months before Preliminary examination. The whole syllabus can be completed within 3-4 months, and it can also be self-studied. Paper 1 will need approximately 2.5 months whereas Paper 2 can be completed within 1.5 months. Note making is necessary to revise in the later days. If one starts to study optional in December, then ideally syllabus needs to be completed by March end. Effective planning is necessary to stay ahead in this examination.

Subject Performance over the Years

Anthropology strategy

As can be seen from the table, Anthropology optional has performed well over the years with decent success rates. Aspirants with anthropology optional have consistently secured top ranks in Civil service examination. In the past, the optional was immensely popular with aspirants when two optionals needed to be chosen. The drop in success rate can be attributed to the change in exam pattern, but the optional has remained popular among the aspirants. Hence choosing Anthropology as an optional in the changed pattern will be a good decision provided one has interest.

Question Paper Trend Analysis for the last Three Years

Anthropology Strategy

Anthropology strategy

Anthropology Topic Wise Strategy

Paper I

Human evolution, Primates, Phylogenetic status, biological basis of life

These topics belong to the physical anthropology branch. They can be high scoring as there is wide scope for the use of diagrams, flow charts and is not subjective. These topics can be covered from Physical anthropology by P Nath and Outlines of Physical anthropology by B M Das. This portion of the syllabus is static and therefore can be prepared well. Aspirants should also be aware of new findings happening around the world which may be a good value addition to their answers, e.g., Cheddar man findings. Important topics include Primate behaviour, Comparative anatomy of humans and apes, Man as primate, biological evolution of human beings, Darwinism, the synthetic theory of organic evolution, Australopithecus, Homo sapiens, Neanderthals their features and phylogeny.

Prehistoric archaeology, Culture, Society, Marriage, Family, Kinship, Economic organisation, Political organisation, Religion

These topics belong to Socio-Cultural anthropology. These topics can be covered from An introduction to Social anthropology by Majumdar and Madan or Makhan Jha, few topics can also be found in Indian Anthropology by Nadeem Hasnain (it is a good source of case studies). Essential topics include Palaeolithic, Neolithic Cultures, Neolithic Revolution, Marriage as a Universal Institution, Cultural Relativism and Ethnocentrism, Theories of Religion, Kinship Terminology, Joint Family, Descent Types, Various exchange forms around the world. These topics are very important since every year most of the topics are asked for 15-20 marks.

Anthropological Theories, Culture Language and Communication, Research Methodologies

Anthropological theories are frequently asked in the examination. All the theories need to be understood well to fetch maximum marks. Theories can be covered from History of anthropological thought by Upadhyay and Gaya Pandey, few theories which are not covered in the book can be found in the study material. For better understanding aspirants should also make use of information available online. Important topics include Fieldwork methodology, Observation techniques, Functionalism, Structural functionalism, Classical evolutionism, Personality theories, National Character studies.

Human Genetics, Race, Epidemiological Anthropology, Human Growth and Development, Demographic Theories, Applied Anthropology

These topics provide a lot of scope for improvisation hence are also highly scoring topics. These topics can be covered from Physical anthropology by P Nath, Outlines of Physical anthropology by B M Das and study materials. Aspirants should make use of diagrams, flow charts, case studies wherever necessary. Important topics include Methods of genetic studies, Applications of Mendelian genetics, Chromosomal disorders, Racism, Human growth studies, Human adaptation to different climates, Forensic anthropology, DNA technology, Paternity diagnosis, Sports and Defence anthropology, Ageing and Senescence theories.

Paper 2

Evolution of Indian Culture and Civilisation, Demographic Profile, Indian Social System

These topics are critical and high scoring. They are frequently asked for 10-15 marks. These topics can be covered from Indian anthropology by Nadeem Hasnain, An introduction to social anthropology by RN Sharma, Recent reports related to demography. These topics will also help in General studies paper 1. Important topics include Indus civilisation, The contribution of tribal cultures, Mesolithic cultures of India, Racial diversity, Ethnoarchaeology, The profile of Indian tribes, Dominant caste, Caste and Varna, Theories of the origin of castes.

Emergence and Growth of Indian Anthropology, Indian Village System, Tribal India

These topics can be covered from Indian anthropology and tribal India by Nadeem Hasnain. Also Ministry of tribal affairs reports, recent committee reports (like XAXA) need to be referred to understand the issues better. Important topics include biogenetic variability of Indian tribes, Problems related to Indian tribes, Constitutional safeguards, Village studies, Contributions of famous Anthropologists like NK Bose, L P Vidyarthi etc, Westernisation, Sanskritisation, the role of media, the growth of anthropology, approaches to tribal development.

Impact of Democratic Institutions on Tribals, Tribal Unrest, History of Tribal Development, The Role of NGOs, The Role of Anthropologists in Development

These topics are dynamic therefore one needs to be aware of recent happenings within the country and around the world. These topics can be covered from Tribal India by Nadeem Hasnain and study materials. Government initiatives need to be thoroughly prepared. Important topics include PESA, 5th and 6th schedules, Panchayat Raj, Role of NGOs, the role of Anthropologists in policy-making and policy implementation, Regionalism, communalism from an anthropological perspective, tribal unrest their causes and consequences.

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Importance of Current Affairs in Anthropology

In paper 1, current affairs will be useful in applied anthropology part. Also, discoveries related to genes like EPAS1 will act as an excellent value addition while answering questions from human genetics. New developments in epidemiological anthropology will also be a good value addition to your answers.

Current affairs play a vital role in paper 2 of anthropology since paper 2 is dynamic. One should collect case studies from newspapers which might help on various topics. Questions in paper 2 will usually look generic, but need to be answered from an Anthropological perspective, hence case studies will play a vital role here.

Few topics on which case studies need to be collected are - Tribal issues, Impact of major religions, regionalism, displacement, the impact of democratic institutions.

For e.g: To answer a question on the problem of bonded labour among Indian tribes, case studies are quintessential.

Answer Writing

Mains exam requires the art of writing answers to articulate your knowledge. In Anthropology, answer writing is critical and this is a skill that can be mastered only with practice. The more you write answers, the more confidence you will gain of handling new questions in the exam. Handwriting does not matter as long as it is legible. There are no separate strategies for Paper-I and Paper-II.

Writing logically and interlinking is necessary for anthropology answers. Once you internalise the subject, answer writing will not require a lot of effort. But, if you have read the subject only once, you may face problems in presenting your viewpoint logically.

How to write effective answers in Anthropology optional for Mains?

Answer writing is a skill which can be harnessed. It needs dedication and practice. Your thoughts, conceptual clarity, needs to be expressed in a lucid and straightforward manner to appeal to the evaluator. Your only means of communication is through your answers hence, answer writing needs to be taken seriously and must be practised enough to fine-tune your answers. The first step in writing an excellent answer is to understand the demands of the question. Do not deviate from what has been asked. This is a typical mistake done by aspirants. UPSC states in its notification that content is more important than the length. Hence, you should try to provide rich content which is possible by thorough reading, revision and practice. To master the art of answer writing one can join test series or also participate in free initiatives like Anthropology answer writing challenge by NeoStencil. Working on the feedback received will help in fine-tuning your answers.

In physical anthropology questions always draw diagrams, flowcharts etc. For example, while answering a question related to Neanderthals one can draw skull shape, facial features of Neanderthals. It saves you time and allows you to express more. You can either write in paragraphs or points. Always try to provide a proper structure to your answers like introduction, body, conclusion, way ahead or suggestions. Do not complicate things nor be too theoretical. UPSC is not looking for a scholar, instead you are expected to understand the issues and express what is asked in a clear, unambiguous manner. This will be enough to score good marks.

Challenges of Anthropology

Lack of guidance compared to other optionals like Public Administration, Geography, Sociology, History makes it easy to get lost in the vast study material available. Hence, it is necessary to select the right one and stick to it instead of studying from multiple sources. Anthropology requires lots of data to be memorised. Hence. lack of revision will affect negatively.

List of Books for Anthropology

  • Physical anthropology by P Nath
  • Outlines of physical anthropology by B M Das
  • Indian anthropology by Nadeem Hasnain
  • An introduction to social anthropology by Majumdar and Madan
  • Social anthropology- Ember and Ember (Selective reading)
  • Tribal India by Nadeem Hasnain
  • History of anthropological thought by Upadhyay and Gaya Pandey

The Relevance of Anthropology for an Administrator

Anthropology helps in informed decision making. When people approach an administrator with their grievances, anthropological skill requires an administrator to show empathy and compassion in addressing the grievances. The administrator will be easily able to identify himself with the people and then analyse their problem from their point of view. When administrator becomes one among the people, a participatory environment is created which is quintessential for achieving good governance.

Anthropology Paper 1 and Paper 2 Important Topics

(NOTE: These topics are not exhaustive but are only included to give a sense of direction to the aspirants )

  • Holism
  • Relationship with social sciences, medical sciences
  • Relevance of anthropology
  • Various branches of anthropology
  • Biological and cultural evolution
  • Organic and synthetic theories of evolution
  • Primate behaviour, Man as primate, Comparative anatomy of man and apes
  • Australopithecines, Homo sapiens, Neanderthals features and phylogeny
  • DNA replication, Protein synthesis
  • Dating techniques
  • Palaeolithic, Neolithic, Chalcolithic Cultures
  • Culture, Civilisation, Cultural Relativism, ethnocentrism
  • Social groups, Institutions
  • Marriage forms, payments, family types, changes in family structure
  • Religion theories, types.
  • Anthropological theories
  • Fieldwork, Observation methodologies
  • Non-verbal communication
  • Methods of genetic studies
  • Chromosomal disorders
  • Racism, Effect of heredity and environment on race formation
  • Human adaptation to different climates
  • Growth methodologies
  • Ageing and senescence theories
  • Demographic theories
  • Factors affecting fertility, fecundity, mortality.
  • Sports, defence, forensic anthropology.
  • Indus Valley civilisation, Contribution of tribal cultures, Prehistoric cultures of India Ardipithecus, Sivapithecus, Narmada Man, Ethnoarchaeology
  • Diversity in Indian population - Racial and linguistic classification
  • Caste and Varna
  • Contributions of Indian and foreign Anthropologists - Guha, Vidyarthi, NK Bose, D Majumdar, SC Roy etc.
  • Village studies and importance
  • Tribal issues
  • Tribal welfare and development
  • Tribal unrest, their cause and consequences
  • Role of NGOs, Anthropologists in development.


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