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Strategy for Sociology Optional for UPSC

Sociology Optional

Sociology Optional: Jagrati Awasthi, who secured the second rank in the 2020 civil services exam, showcased sociology as her chosen optional. This subject possesses a distinct appeal due to its ability to attract candidates from diverse science and humanities backgrounds. Remarkably, sociology is accessible to all, irrespective of their academic foundation in the field. Moreover, it is renowned for its potential to yield high scores, particularly when approached with the right techniques and strategies during preparation. Within this article, you will find comprehensive insights about the sociology optional, encompassing its syllabus, recommended booklist, strategic approach, and more.

How many candidates take Sociology optional?

As per the latest UPSC annual report in 2017, a total of 1421 candidates opted for sociology as their optional subject. Among these candidates, 137 were subsequently recommended for various services, resulting in a success rate of 9.6%. The subsequent table presents the statistics concerning the count of candidates who chose sociology as their optional subject and the number of candidates who were ultimately recommended.

Table for Sociology Success Rate

YearNo. of candidates appearedNo. of candidates recommendedSuccess rate (%)

Toppers with Sociology optional

Jagrati Awasthi, who achieved All India Rank 2 in the CSE 2020, chose sociology as her optional subject, even with an engineering background. Anu Kumari, the topper of 2017 (AIR 2), also selected sociology as her optional subject and secured remarkable scores in both the optional papers. Her outstanding scores of 163 and 155 in the optional papers significantly boosted her final score, propelling her to attain the second rank.

Refer to the subsequent table for the names of a few toppers who opted for sociology as their chosen optional subject:

Jagrati Awasthi20202
Sanjita Mohapatra201910
Shruti Jayant Deshmukh20185
Anu Kumari20172
S Nagarajan20041
Amrutesh Aurangabadkar201110
Ila Tripathi201651
Utkarsh Gupta201678
Chandra Mohan Garg201525
Neha Yadav201324
Neha Jain201312
Rajanvir Singh Kapur201192

Sociology Optional Pros and Cons

There are many benefits of taking sociology as the optional in the UPSC exam. In this section, we discuss some of the advantages and disadvantages associated with the sociology optional in the IAS exam.

Sociology Optional Advantages

Scoring subject & short syllabus: Sociology is considered a scoring subject, and this is one of the main reasons for its popularity. Its success ratio is also pretty high. With a relatively short syllabus, candidates can ideally complete within four months if they work sincerely.

Ample study material: There is ample study material available for this subject.

No background needed: Candidates with any academic background can opt for sociology optional and study it without any difficulty. Candidates will likely have at least a basic idea of some of the concepts of sociology. Concepts like family, religion, etc. are familiar and can be encountered in the daily newspapers often. It is generally considered an interesting subject.

Overlap with other papers: There is a degree of overlap of sociology with the other papers in the UPSC exam. In the General Studies Paper 1, about 40 – 50 marks can be from sociology-related topics. The following questions from the 2017 GS 1 paper will illustrate this better:

  1. 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 marks)
  2. The spirit tolerance and love is not only an interesting feature of Indian society from very early times, but it is also playing an important part at the present. Elaborate. (15 marks)
  3. Distinguish between religiousness/religiosity and communalism giving one example of how the former has got transformed into the latter in independent India. (15 marks)

These questions can be answered better with an understanding of sociology.

Take a look at the topics from the GS papers that can be done well with the help of sociology optional:

GS Paper I

  • Political philosophies such as capitalism, communism, socialism, etc. and their effects on society.
  • Highlights of Indian society, Diversity in India.
  • Impacts of globalisation on Indian culture.
  • Role of women and women’s organisation, poverty and developmental issues, population and associated issues, urbanization.
  • Social empowerment, communalism, secularism and regionalism.

GS Paper II

  • Pressure groups and formal/informal associations, their role in the polity.
  • Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population, mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of vulnerable sections.
  • Development processes and the development industry – the role of NGOs, SHGs, various groups and associations, donors, charities, institutional and other stakeholders.
  • Education, Human Resources.
  • Issues relating to the development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to health.
  • Civil services in a democracy.
  • Issues relating to poverty and hunger.

GS Paper III

  • Land reforms in India.
  • Comprehensive development and issues emerging from it.
  • Development and spread of extremism linkage – Naxalism.
  • Changes in industrial policy, impacts of liberalization on the economy, and their outcome on industrial growth.

GS Paper IV

  • Human Values- role of family, society and educational institutions in inculcating values; reformers and administrators, lessons from the lives and teachings of great leaders.

Even in the Essay paper, at least a couple of essays can be written well and in a systematic manner because of the sociology optional because the topics would be about social problems and the like. Examples of a few essay topics that were asked in the IAS mains exam with a connection to sociology:

  1. Destiny of a nation is shaped in its classrooms.
  2. Fulfilment of a new woman in India is a myth.
  3. Does Indian cinema shape our popular culture or merely reflect it?
  4. The Indian society at the crossroads.
  5. The composite culture of India.

Finally, even in the UPSC personality test, sociology optional can help you. Many of the questions asked are based on social problems and current affairs. So, knowledge of sociology can give you an added advantage.

Sociology Optional Disadvantages

Sociology is a social sciences subject, and so, unlike the core sciences, some of the concepts and interpretations can be subjective. This may lead to subjective corrections by the examiner.

Sociology Optional Syllabus

Let us take a look at the syllabus for sociology for the UPSC mains exam.

There are two optional papers in the UPSC scheme of things. Both the papers are for a total of 250 marks making the total optional marks to 500.

Sociology Optional Strategy

Before starting with the strategy for sociology optional for UPSC mains, let us take a look at the topic-wise trend analysis of the sociology optional papers through the years 2014 to 2017.

UnitQuestions worth marks
The Discipline30202030
Sociology as Science40305030
Research Methods30403020
Works and Economic Life30303030
Politics and Society40305060
Religion and Society30504030
Systems of Kinship50402030
Social Change50505060

Topic Wise Analysis of Sociology Optional Paper 2

UnitQuestions worth marks
Impact of colonial rule40104030
Rural and agrarian social structure020030
Caste system50605020
Tribal communities in India20302040
Social classes in India010020
Systems of kinship in India30305020
Religion and society10203030
Visions of social change in India0000
Rural and agrarian transformation30501020
Industrialisation and urbanisation40801010
Politics and society2002010
Social movements in modern India20204050
Population dynamics30201030
Challenges of social transformation50409060

Preparation Strategy for Sociology optional

  • Initiate your sociology preparation by immersing yourself in the book “Sociology: Themes and Perspectives” authored by Haralambos and Holborn. This book serves as a foundational resource, equipping you with a comprehensive grasp of fundamental sociological concepts. Additionally, it incorporates case studies, facilitating the application of theory into practical contexts. Notably, it proves invaluable when tackling chapters such as Economic Life, Politics and Society, and Kinship and Social Change.
  • Devote special attention to the segment on thinkers: As evident from the aforementioned tables, the chapter encompassing thinkers carries substantial weight in Paper I. Hence, it demands thorough dedication. Six prominent thinkers should be covered meticulously: Emile Durkheim, Karl Marx, Talcott Parsons, Max Weber, Herbert Mead, and Robert Merton. It is imperative to delve deeply into each theory, comprehensively exploring its nuances. This chapter not only serves as a foundation for answering related questions but also enhances your ability to address topics across other chapters. For instance, the subject of ‘Science, scientific method, and critique’ in chapter 2 is interconnected with Max Weber’s approach to Scientific Method in sociological analysis.

Thinkers, as mentioned before, are a big source of questions. A few questions from the previous year UPSC papers are given below:

  1. Do you think ‘I’ and ‘Me’ are central terms in Mead’s work? (10 marks, Paper I, 2018)
  2. Explain Durkheim’s basic arguments on suicide. Can you analyse high suicide rates of contemporary Indian society with Durkheim’s theory? (20 marks, Paper I, 2018)
  3. Critically analyse Talcott Parsons’ conception of ‘Pattern Variables’. (10 marks, Paper I, 2017)
  4. What is Weberian critique of Marxist notion of social stratification? (20 marks, Paper I, 2017)
  • Throughout the syllabus, there are concepts from different chapters that you must relate with one another. ‘Theories of Social Stratification’, which is a part of chapter 5 is linked to chapter 2. Chapter 7, which is ‘Politics and Society’, has a topic on sociological theories of power which can be linked to Weberian and Marxian theories of power. Chapter 8 has a topic ‘Sociological theories on religion’ which is inter-linked to Weber and Durkheim.
  • A comprehensive book on sociological thought is crucial for you to understand the various theories and also write better answers throughout. For this, the book, ‘Sociological Theory’ by George Ritzer is recommended. It contains all the sociological theories, modern theories and post-modern theories. Many successful candidates such as Anu Kumari and Ila Tripathi have recommended this book.
  • It is also helpful if you can remember the original definitions given by the thinkers. This will significantly add value to your answers.
  • While Paper I focuses on the theories of sociology and is more static, Paper-II is the dynamic section of the syllabus. It concentrates on Indian Society. Here, current affairs, particularly with an Indian perspective, is essential to fetch good marks.
  • Whenever you write answers, always quote a few relevant and current facts, figures, case studies and recommendations of reports/commissions. Real-life examples are of utmost importance in this paper. This will help you substantiate the point that you are making and also help you earn brownie points.

On issues of patriarchy, you can give the skewed sex ratios of various states in India and relate it to development, women empowerment, etc.

  • Quotations are also an important tool to make sure your answers stand out. But make sure the quotes that you use are relevant to the topic, correct and attributed to the right author.
  • For Paper II, there are three important books you should refer to. They are:
    • Social Change in Modern India – MN Srinivas
    • Caste Its Twentieth Century Avatar – MN Srinivas
    • Indian Sociological Thought – BK Nagla

For Paper II, you should also remember that the newspapers are an important source of answers. This paper generally deals with India, and the questions usually are about recent events that occurred. So, when you read the newspaper daily, make sure you watch out for topics that are potential questions in this paper. Things to watch out for are gender/women issues, caste-based issues, tribal issues, Indian values and its erosion, Indian society, etc.

  • Make sure your answers are multi-dimensional. For this, when you prepare a topic, make sure to include various dimensions and perspectives on it. For instance, environmental movements in India also have a social angle to them (women and child issues, tribal issues, etc.

For example, take a look at the following question from Paper II, 2018:

  1. Elaborate on the “Me Too” movement and its impact in India.

This question, based on current affairs, has many aspects to it. Answering this question requires multiple dimensions from the fields of psychology, sexual harassment in the workplace and its prevention (polity, law), feminism, the idea of consent, social hierarchies, gender roles, etc.

Now, look at another question from Paper II, 2017:

  1. Indebtedness is one of the serious issues leading to farmers’ suicides. Discuss reasons and suggest solutions.

Here also, you have to talk about various aspects of farmers’ suicides like the agricultural distress in India, vagaries of the monsoons and its effect on our farmers, mental health of Indians, etc. Here, you should also talk about what Durkheim had to say about suicides.

  • In sociology, you can embellish your answers by including relevant diagrams and flowcharts. Prepare a few for standard topics and concepts so that you can use them in the exam.
  • On every topic, develop points from both sides of the spectrum (positive and negative) and present a balanced picture. Your conclusions must be futuristic, realistic and positively oriented.
  • Answer writing practice

In sociology, like in most other humanities subject, answer writing becomes very important. It isn’t like maths or chemistry, where you can write precise and to-the-point answers. Here, you have to write an introduction to the topic first, create a background, then talk about the issue asked, give real-life examples, relate it to thinkers/schools of thoughts, critique, and finally, provide an apt conclusion. Now, this requires a practice of answer-writing. For this, you should enrol for an optional test series. A test series ensures that you get ample exam-like simulation before the D-day. This will help you in many aspects such as time management, assessment of strengths and weaknesses, and also help you increase your speed of writing. You will also learn to understand what is precisely asked in the question and to write answers with a proper structure and with the proper keywords.

Books for Sociology Optional

  • Sociology Themes and Perspectives – Michael Haralambos, Martin Holborn
  • Sociology – Anthony Giddens
  • Sociological Theory – George Ritzer
  • Society In India: Concepts, Theories And Recent Trends – Ram Ahuja
  • Modernization Of Indian Tradition – Yogendra Singh
  • Social Background of Indian Nationalism – AR Desai
  • Persistence and Change in Tribal India – MV Rao

Read Also: Tips on Essay Writing for UPSC Mains Exam

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