A complete strategy to Sociology for UPSC

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 Sociology and will try to analyze the various aspects of Sociology from the UPSC CSE point of view. We will comprehensively cover the headings mentioned below. This will help you decide whether to opt for Sociology or not and if you decide to choose the subject, how you can approach the subject to prepare well for the exam.

  • Why is Sociology popular among aspirants?
  • Overlap with General studies
  • Timeline for Preparation
  • Subject performance of Sociology over the years
  • Topic-wise analysis of Sociology Mains paper
  • Importance of current affairs in Sociology
  • How to approach answer writing
  • Challenges in Sociology Optional
  • Booklist for Sociology

Anu Kumari (AIR 2) - Preparation Strategy and Tips for Sociology Optional

Why is Sociology popular among aspirants?

  • Easy to understand and very interesting as the topics covered concern the very society we are a part of. Students from all backgrounds can opt for this subject.
  • Short syllabus and scoring.
  • Good overlap with General studies paper and Essay paper.
  • Take 3 -4 months to complete the syllabus with a good understanding.
  • Help in the interview round. Most of the current-based and situation-based questions have a direct link with social problems. A Sociology student has already been groomed for such questions. He has a built-in platform to tackle social problems. His updated knowledge makes him a perfect interviewee and interviewers seek no foundation in awarding his marks.

Overlap with General Studies Paper

Sociology helps in scoring good marks in GS paper-1 as every year 40-50 marks are asked from society portion. These questions can be aptly written with broad understanding which sociology as an optional subject enriches students.

For ex-In 2017, 50 marks questions were asked from society portion. Questions are:

  • In the context of the diversity of India, can it be said that the regions form cultural units rather than the States? Give reasons with examples for your viewpoint. (10
  • What are the two major legal initiatives by the State since Independence, addressing discrimination against Scheduled Tribes (STs)? (10).
  • Spirit tolerance and love are not only an interesting feature of Indian society from very early times, but it is also playing an important part in the present. Elaborate (15).
  • Distinguish between religiousness/religiosity and communalism giving one example of how the former has got transformed into the latter in independent India. (15)

It helps in essay writing as there are two to four topics directly based on social problems, which would be arranged in a very systematic and logical manner. Sociology students always remain in a comfort zone in making a better presentation and obtaining good marks.

For example, Essay topics in 2017 related to sociology concepts are

  • Destiny of a nation is shaped in its classrooms. (Section A): --This essay can be suitably written with an added advantage of quoting some thinkers like Pierre Bourdieu who wrote extensively about education and which is applicable in the present-day context of India.
  • The fulfillment of a new woman in India is a myth. (Section B)

Sociology also helps in the ethics paper particularly the case studies part where you can apply your understanding of sociology to write better solutions and recommendations in the answer.

UPSC Mains GS Papers Preparation Strategies 

Timeline for Preparation

The timeline for preparation is generally based on individual grasping power and availability of time for study. For completing sociology Optional, ideally, 4 months are required to cover the whole syllabus. You can divide your time equally for both Papers I and Paper 2. You should start with Paper I as it gives a holistic understanding of the sociology Theory and Fundamental concepts.

After completing the paper I, Read paper II which is based on the Indian context. While preparing Paper II to try to link the subject matter of Paper-II with the concepts learned in the Paper I as it will help build an analytical approach to understand the problems and development in Indian Society.

IAS Topper - Anu Kumari (AIR 2, UPSC 2017) - Interview Session -  Cleared UPSC with Sociology Optional

Subject Performance of Sociology Over the Years

Sociology has been consistently a better performing optional subject. The success rate of sociology has remained around 9 percent which can be observed in the graph. This proves why sociology has remained one of the popular optional subjects over the years.

Sociology success rate

Topic-wise Analysis of Sociology Mains Paper

Sociology Paper 1

Sociology Paper 2

Strategy to Follow for Sociology

Step-1: Go through every topic, sub-topics of the syllabus. Memorize the syllabus which can be very important to correlate in answer writing. The syllabus should be always in front of your study table/ Study place.

Step-2 Read standard sources (standard books) and make short notes for each topic and sub-topic. Prepare a write up in 200-250 on each syllabus topic. For example In Topic Sociological Thinkers and subtopic- Karl Marx- Historical materialism, mode of production, alienation, class struggle, write each subtopic on a separate page in your notebook and prepare to write up including standard definition and related theories.

The original definition by thinkers very important in paper-1 and reproducing the same in the examination can fetch you better marks. Most questions are so direct (e.g., Karl Marx mode of production, Sociology, and common sense) that you just need to blurt out what you 've written.

For example- Definition of Alienation by Karl Marx can be read as the process whereby the worker is made to feel alien to the products of his/her labor

Step-4 Note making for paper 2 becomes very important as they are very few standard sources in the market. Further, questions in paper 2 are asked from current topics and are dynamic which needs to be written in sociological terms. Thus, the blend of static and current content becomes of utmost importance to fetch better marks in the examination.

Whatever you read in Static and Current part keep consolidating topic wise. Anything new, please add your notes rather than reading again and again. Later these notes can be consolidated and used for revision purposes. If you will not make notes you will not be able to catch hold of the entire syllabus, keep forgetting things. So start making notes from day 1. Over time, you will learn how to make, manage and revise them.

For example, all the topics in Section C of the syllabus of paper-2 like the Informal sector, child labor, Slums and deprivation in urban areas, Violence against women, poverty, deprivation and inequalities, Regionalism and decentralization of power, Secularization, etc can be supplemented with current affairs news.

For example- The topic of Violence against women can be supplemented with recent rulings of the Supreme Court in Triple Talaq, Enactment of SHE Box (Sexual harassment- electronic box, etc.

Important Links related to UPSC Sociology Optional

Importance of Current Affairs in Sociology

Current Affairs becomes particularly important for answering Paper II in sociology optional. Adding relevant examples from the current issues going in the country always adds a lot more value to your answer and will keep you ahead of your peers in fetching marks in mains paper. To develop your habit to substantiate your answer with the current events, try to link the syllabus of paper II with the current event and make a note.

The Hindu, Indian Express editorials, Economic and Political weekly can help you give the fooder to prepare good and relevant examples for Paper II

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How to Approach Answer Writing

  • Learn the syllabus topics and sub-topics. It helps a lot in making linkages.
  • Go through previous year papers and write as many answers as possible and get them evaluated. Going through previous papers is important. Almost 4-5 questions are repeated. Education and mobility, old age problems, ethnicity and religion, value neutrality. Questions on these have been asked in the past 3 years without fail.
  • Paper 1 and Paper 2 should be seen in an integrated form. For example, a question on farmer suicide in paper-2 in 2017 question paper can be supplemented with the thinker of Paper-1 (Emile Durkheim theory on Anomic suicide). Similarly, the question on salient features in Middle class (2013) in paper 2 can be introduced with the definition of Anthony Giddens as Anthony Giddens identifies three major classes in society. They are upper class based on the ownership of property in the means of production, a middle class based on the possession of educational and technical qualifications and a lower or working class based on the possession of manual labor power.
  • Q- Impact of privatization on educational disparities. Here you could present both sides. Use the Marxian Perspective, ASER Data, some Indian thinker/activist perspective, etc. Same with the functionalist perspective.
  • Once you complete the syllabus completely do join a test series.
  • Do daily practice with some good online initiatives (For example- Neostencil 90 Days Answer Writing Practice for your Optional Subject).
  • Keep a note of Sociology related current affairs to be able to quote them in answers
  • Quote thinkers wherever you can, both in Paper 1 and Paper 2
  • Answers should be multidimensional- For eg: if you re asked to give a sociological analysis of the Green Revolution, mention its impact on female labor force participation, sex ratio, landholding pattern, rural mobility, etc. Questions on environmental movements in India- Are also social(as women and child issues, peasants, tribes issues get interlinked). Thus are being called new social movements
  • For GS type questions Like MNREGA. You need to relate it to the topics of the syllabus. MNREGA is linked with rural transformation, poverty, women upliftment, migration, social change/development, environmental change, rural development, rural labor, etc. You can easily frame your answers once you know how it links to my syllabus. Try to write some social reports/analyses on MNREGA. Or some perspective if you can give. ( eg- Role of state in social development, Policy as a tool of social change, etc.)
  • Underlined keywords in all answers to make it easy for an examiner.
  • Draw diagrams wherever you find an opportunity to make the answer more attractive which can fetch some extra marks.
  • For example, writing attributes of the caste system, it can be shown in the form of triangle-like:
  • If you can quote some data or studies of sociologists especially in Paper 2 like in case of village studies, etc., it would help in getting more marks.
  • Try to introduce answers well- you can follow paragraph form of answer writing but you may write in points too, that does t make a difference so long as the flow is maintained.
  • Try to provide Criticism in all answers to make answer balanced. Conclusion on a positive note is a must.
  • In questions like making a comparison between important theories of Thinkers, tables can be made for clear-cut presentation.
  • For example- question - Identify the similarities and differences between Marx s theory of alienation and Durkheim s theory of anomie. (2014).
  • Differences can be written as:
Anomie Alienation
The product of rapid social change Product of exploitative system of production and exchange in Capitalism.
Not beneficial to any Beneficial to Bourgeoisie due to exploitative DOL.
Resolved by bringing new norms and values and reintegrating the individual self-interest with the social interest The proletariat revolution and overthrowing of the bourgeoisie through class-in-itself to class-for-itself is the only solution to end alienation.
Durkheim sought solution within the framework of the society Marx sought to replace the existing framework with socialism

  • Try to put some dynamism in the answer. Never relate to the specific scholars. Add some reports (not necessarily data) or findings.
  • Lastly, when it comes to Sociology please remember that perception/experience of social institutions/events/inequalities etc will always vary from one individual to another hence there is scope for writing extremely different answers. So use that to your advantage.

Challenges in Sociology as Optional

Lastly, when it comes to Sociology please remember that perception/experience of social institutions/events/inequalities etc will always vary from one individual to another hence there is scope for writing extremely different answers. So use that to your advantage.

The disadvantages of sociology optional as compared to the advantages are less. The main disadvantage for sociology optional would be of self-interest in the subject. One should have the interest to study sociology because it includes one's own understanding and perspective of society. One should be able to critically analyze a different perspective. There is no right and wrong stated answer to a particular question, it is completely based on one's understanding and writing skills. Apart from one's knowledge and thought, Sociology is filled with theories and concepts and perspectives of different Thinkers, which for a beginner would be difficult to understand.

Book List for Sociology

There is not any single source for all the topics and hence students need to refer selected chapters of various standard books. Since each chapter has many topics and one particular source won't have all the topics covered or even if they are covered then they won't be very good. So out of the sources mentioned you, can figure out which one explains which topic in the best way and read from it. Don t try to read one topic from multiple resources until they have something extra or you lack clarity. Another reason for telling more resources is you might not have all of them; in that case, you can refer to other resources. For current aspects of Sociology, EPW magazine is a good read.

Paper-1 booklist

Topic-wise Paper I Source for Reference
Sociology The Discipline(i) Modernity and social changes in Europe and the emergence of sociology. (ii) Scope of the subject and comparison with other social sciences. (iii) Sociology and common sense. SOCIOLOGY: A GUIDE TO PROBLEMS AND LITERATURE: T.B.BOTTOMORE. IGNOU B.A. ESO-13.The Making of sociology Ronald Fischer
Sociology as Science:(i) Science, scientific method and critique. (ii) Major theoretical strands of research methodology. (iii) Positivism and its critique. (iv) Fact value and objectivity. (v) In- positivist methodologies. Sociology by HaralambosResearch Methods in Social science Goode & Hatt
Research Methods and Analysis:(i) Qualitative and quantitative methods. (ii) Techniques of data collection. (iii) Variables, sampling, hypothesis, reliability, and validity. Sociology by HaralambosResearch Methods in Social science Goode & Hatt
Sociological Thinkers:(i) Karl Marx- Historical materialism, mode of production, alienation, class struggle. (ii) Emile Durkheim- Division of labor, social fact, suicide, religion, and society. (iii) Max Weber- Social action, ideal types, authority, bureaucracy, the protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism. (iv) Talcott Parsons- Social system, pattern variables. (v) Robert K. Merton- Latent and manifest functions, conformity and deviance, reference groups. (vi) Mead Self and identity. Sociology Themes and Perspectives Michael Haralambos, Martin HolbornSociological Theory George RitzerSocial Theory & Social Structure MertonOxford Dictionary Of SociologyIGNOU Material
Stratification and Mobility:(i) Concepts- equality, inequality, hierarchy, exclusion, poverty, and deprivation. (ii) Theories of social stratification- Structural functionalist theory, Marxist theory, Weberian theory. (iii) Dimensions Social stratification of class, status groups, gender, ethnicity, and race. (iv) Social mobility- open and closed systems, types of mobility, sources and causes of mobility. Sociology Themes and Perspectives Michael Haralambos, Martin HolbornSocial Stratification Deepankar GuptaSociology by Antony GiddensIGNOU Material
Works and Economic Life:(i) Social organization of work in different types of society- slave society, feudal society, industrial /capitalist society. (ii) Formal and informal organization of work. (iii) Labour and society. Sociology by HarlambosSociology by Antony GiddensSociology by Neil J Smelser
Politics and Society:(i) Sociological theories of power. (ii) Power elite, bureaucracy, pressure groups, and political parties. (iii) Nation, state, citizenship, democracy, civil society, ideology. (iv) The protest, agitation, social movements, collective action, revolution. Political Sociology by Asraf & SharmaSociology by HarlambosNation, State & Citizenship T.K. Women
Religion and Society:(i) Sociological theories of religion. (ii) Types of religious practices: animism, monism, pluralism, sects, cults. (iii) Religion in modern society: religion and science, secularization, religious revivalism, fundamentalism. Sociology by HarlambosSociology of Religion By Grace Device
Systems of Kinship:(i) Family, household, marriage. (ii) Types and forms of family. (iii) Lineage and descent. (iv) Patriarchy and the sexual division of labor. (v) Contemporary trends. Sociology by HarlambosIGNOU Material
Social Change in Modern Society:(i) Sociological theories of social change. (ii) Development and dependency. (iii) Agents of social change. (iv) Education and social change. (v) Science, technology and social change. Sociology by Antony GiddensIGNOU Material

Paper-2 Booklist

Topic-wise Paper II Source for Reference
Introducing Indian Society(i) Perspectives on the study of Indian society(ii) Impact of colonial rule on Indian society (i) Indian Sociology Nagle(ii) Social  Background of Indian Nationalism AR Desai(iii) Modernisation of Indian Tradition Yogendra Singh (iv) IGNOU B.A. ESO-14
Social Structure(i) Rural and Agrarian Social Structure(ii) Caste System(iii) Tribal communities in India(iv) Social Classes in India(v) Systems of Kinship in India(vi) Religion and Society (i) Rural Sociology by AR Desai(ii) Evolution of Indian Economy NCERT(iii) Caste in India by M N Srinivas(iv) Caste in its modern Avatar By M N Srinivas(v) Caste, Class & Power Andre Beatille(vi) Caste & Race In India By Ghurye(vii) Social Stratification By Deepankar Gupta (viii) Indian Social System By Ram Ahuja (ix) Tribal India By Nadeem Hasnain (x) Marriage, Family & Kinship in India Patrica Oberoi
Social Changes in India(i) Visions of Social Change in India(ii) Rural and Agrarian transformation in India(iii) Industrialization and Urbanization in India(iv) Politics and Society(v) Social Movements in Modern India(vi) Population Dynamics(vii) Challenges of Social Transformation (i) Society in India by Ram Ahuja (ii) Yojna & Kurukshetra Magazine Last 1 year issues(iii) Sociological Background of Indian Nationalism by A R Desai(iv) Modernisation of Indian Tradition by Yogendra Singh(v) Indian Polity By Bhambri(vi) Nation, Citizenship by T K Oommen(vii) SocialMovements in India: Ghanshyam Shah(viii) A Geography of Population by Chandana, Agrawal. (ix) Politics in India: Paul Brass ( Selected chapters )

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