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Strategy for Anthropology Optional for UPSC

Anthropology as an optional subject in the UPSC civil services mains exam is a popular choice for aspirants, especially for those with a science or engineering background. It is also an interesting subject and considered scoring by many. Last year’s UPSC topper Anudeep Durishetty (AIR 1, CSE 2017) had anthropology as his optional subject. In this article, we discuss all you need to know about anthropology as an optional in the IAS exam – syllabus, strategy, booklist, etc.

How many candidates take Anthropology optional?

Although the number of candidates who take up anthropology as their optional is not as high as subjects like public administration or geography, anthropology enjoys a relatively high success rate which hovers around 10%. According to the latest figures, in 2016, 345 candidates had opted for anthropology out of which 37 candidates cleared the exam giving a success rate of 10.7%. The following table gives the number of candidates who appeared for the IAS exam with anthropology as the optional vis-a-vis the number of candidates who cleared the exam with it.

Year No. of candidates appeared No. of candidates recommended Success rate (%)
2011 463 61 13.2
2012 579 38 6.6
2013 449 53 11.8
2014 619 68 11
2015 641 95 14.8
2016 345 37 10.7

Toppers with Anthropology optional

There have been many toppers who had anthropology as their optional subject. The most recent being Anudeep Durishetty who bagged the first all-India rank in the 2017 UPSC exam.

The next table gives a list of a few toppers who had anthropology as their optional.

Name Year Rank
Anudeep Durishetty 2017 1
Sachin Gupta 2017 3
Koya Sree Harsha 2017 6
Milind Bapna 2016 61
Devendra Kumar 2016 97
Samir Saurabh 2016 127
Kirthi Chekuri 2015 14
Neha Kumari 2014 26
Arunraj 2014 34
Raja Gopal Sunkara 2014 49

Anthropology Optional Pros and Cons

On an average, about 500 candidates take up anthropology as their optional and this includes those without any background in the subject. Like any other optional, there are pros and cons if you take anthropology as your optional. In any case, you must go through a checklist before fixing on an optional. You can read more about how to select an optional subject for the IAS mains from the link below:

Few Thumb Rules to Choose the Right Optional Subject for IAS Exam Mains

UPSC 2022

Anthropology optional advantages

  • In anthropology, the questions asked are generally direct.
  • It is considered scoring when compared to core humanities subjects. It is scientific in nature, so the answers can be made more appealing by diagrams and flowcharts. These save time while writing answers and also fetch marks.
  • Its syllabus is relatively short. It can be completed in 4 months time if the right strategy and study material are followed.
  • It is a good option for candidates with a science or engineering background and don’t wish to take their graduation subjects as their optionals.
  • It is an interesting subject and easy to understand.
  • The performance of this optional has been consistent unlike some other popular subjects.
  • The overlap with General Studies is lesser than subjects like political science, public administration and economy, but there is a degree of overlap nevertheless.
    • Topics like society and social justice (part of GS I, II) become easier if you have studied anthropology.
    • In GS ll paper, Welfare of weaker section of society  will be covered under Tribal Development topic of Anthropology.
    • In the Essay Paper, tribal dimensions can be quoted in a better way .
    • In Ethics’s case studies, tribal issues can be better handled with the Anthropology optional.
    • In GS lll, Internal Security issue can be better understand with the Anthropology optional.
    • A good portion of biotechnology and biology will also be covered.
    • You can write answers on current events in the light of anthropology and score good marks because of a different perspective. For instance, issues like cow slaughter ban, social control, etc. can be written with an anthropological basis.

Anthropology optional disadvantages

  • Guidance is limited unlike political science, geography, history, etc.
  • Proper guidance is required; otherwise it takes a lot of time to complete the syllabus by self-study.
  • Conceptual clarity is a must as mugging up will not help to score marks in this optional.

You can click on the link below for more details on Anthropology Optional Coaching.

Anthropology Syllabus for UPSC

Let us take a look at the syllabus for anthropology 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.

Download the Anthropology syllabus PDF

Anthropology optional strategy

We give you a few tips on anthropology preparation and also on answer writing for this optional.

Preparation tips for Anthropology

  • Go through the UPSC syllabus for anthropology thoroughly. This is your key to performing well in the exam. You must also go through the previous year question papers and get an idea of the most important topics.
  • Divide the syllabus into sections so that you can cover it easily without getting bogged down. Paper I consists of Social Cultural Anthropology and Biological Anthropology. Paper II consists of Indian Society and Tribal India.
  • Focus on getting conceptual clarity.
  • Try to relate each chapter with others. All chapters are inter-related in this paper.
  • Note making is important for this subject. Incorporate relevant diagrams and flowcharts wherever possible in your notes. They help revision easier and are also a must-have for scoring good marks in anthropology.
  • If you are a novice to the subject, it is recommended that you attempt as many questions from physical anthropology. Here, there is ample scope for diagrams and the questions are largely static.
  • Answer writing:
    • Answer writing practice is a must if you want to score good marks. Try to answer like a specialist. You answers must be divided into: definitions, introduction, explanation, criticisms, etc. When citing something, try to mention the name of the researcher/anthropologist whose work you are referring to and also its criticisms by other scientists. For example, Franz Boas in his article “The Limitation of the Comparative Method of Anthropology (1896)” criticized the evolutionary approach and laid the foundations of Historical Particularism.
    • When you write about one concept, you talk about a main thinker and explain it. But you can get brownie points if you also quote other thinkers on the subject. For instance, in Paper II, in the topic ‘Tribe-based Continuum’, almost every answer will talk about the work of Bailey, but your answer can stand out from the crowd if you write about Madia Gonds as described by Surajit Sinha.
    • Include side-headings in your answers. They give a proper structure to your answers and also make it easier for the examiner to correct. They also make the answer more presentable and neat.
    • As mentioned before, include lots of relevant diagrams and flowcharts in your answers. They save time and also drive home the point better. A good diagram fetches marks. For this, you must practice diagrams every day.
    • Time management is a must. In the exam hall, students can get carried away and tend to write more a particular topic. Your strategy should be to complete the paper on time. Every question is important. To manage time better and complete the paper, you should practice answer-writing rigorously.
  • Case studies
    • Case studies are very important in anthropology. Include as many case studies as possible in your answers.
    • For example, you can write about the Criminal Tribes Act while answering questions about Cultural Relativism. Here, you can talk about how the Act equated a sedentary life with civilised life and grouped many nomadic tribes as criminals by birth, which stigmatised a whole section of society and future generations as well.
    • To give another example, on a question on the impact of industrialisation of Scheduled Tribes on Jharkhand’s population, you can quote a case study by the Tribal Research Institute in Ranchi.
    • You should collect a good number of case studies for relevant topics and study them.
  • Where can you get case studies?
  • A few topics for which you can collect case studies:
    • Problems of the tribal Communities – land alienation, poverty, indebtedness, low literacy, poor educational facilities, unemployment, underemployment, health and nutrition.
    • Linguistic and religious minorities and their social, political and economic status.
    • Developmental projects and their impact on tribal displacement and problems of rehabilitation. Development of forest policy and tribals. Impact of urbanization and industrialization on tribal populations.
    • Panchayati Raj and social change; Media and social change.
    • Problems of exploitation and deprivation of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes. Constitutional safeguards for Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes.
    • The concept of ethnicity; Ethnic conflicts and political developments; Unrest among tribal communities; Regionalism and demand for autonomy; Pseudo-tribalism; Social change among the tribes during colonial and post-Independent India.
    • Social change and contemporary tribal societies: Impact of modern democratic institutions, development programmes and welfare measures on tribals and weaker sections.
    • Impact of Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and other religions on tribal societies.
    • Role of anthropology in tribal and rural development.
    • History of administration of tribal areas, tribal policies, plans, programmes of tribal development and their implementation. The concept of PTGs (Primitive Tribal Groups), their distribution, special programmes for their development. Role of N.G.O.s in tribal development.
    • Contributions of anthropology to the understanding of regionalism, communalism, and ethnic and political movements.
  • Current affairs – Linking current affairs to the syllabus is important in anthropology also like in any other subject. Scan the newspapers for important news like the discovery of a new fossil, a new finding in genetics, or a new scheme launched by the government for tribes in the country. Have a separate file for anthropology-related current affairs.

Anthropology UPSC Books

Paper I

  • Introducing Sociology NCERT Class XI
  • Biology NCERT book For Class Xll (Chapter 5, 6, 7)
  • An Introduction to Social Cultural Anthropology – N.K Vaid
  • An Introduction to Social Anthropology – D.N. Majumdar and T.N. Madan (for basic understating of Anthropology)
  • Anthropological Theories – Makhan Jha
  • Measuring Time (Chapter 2) of Indian Prehistory – D.K Bhattacharya
  • Biology NCERT Class XII
  • Physical Anthropology – P. Nath
  • IGNOU MA Course for Anthropology

Paper II

  • Indian Anthropology – Nadeem Hasnain
  • Indian Society – NCERT Class XII
  • Social Change and Development in India –  NCERT Class XII
  • Tribal India – Nadeem Hasnain
  • Xaxa Committee Report
  • Tribal Culture Of India – L P Vidyarathi
  • Tribal Ministry Website
  • IGNOU MA Course For Anthropology

Related Links:

Anthropology as an Optional and Books required for UPSC Civil Services UPSC Mains: Sociology or Anthropology Optional?
Is Anthropology a Good Optional for IAS Exam Simple and Best Ways for Anthropology Preparation


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