UPSC Mains – How to Prepare for Sociology Optional

How to study Sociology for UPSC?/Is Sociology a good optional for IAS?

Sociology is an ever popular optional subject in Civil Services Examination and the popularity has increased over the years owing to the incredible performance in terms of scoring. Sociology as an optional subject doesn’t demand any special knowledge or a particular academic background. It is indeed a helpful subject to candidates in many ways. Sociology knowledge comes in handy while attempting the social issues part in general studies paper and can also help in essay, as there is possibly one topic from Sociology. Social issues also form a substantial portion when it comes to interview and having a good hold over the subject is definitely an asset.

In GS Paper 1 – Social problems accounts for almost 20 to 40 marks. A thorough preparation in sociology will ensure no special effort is needed to deal with this.

The topics covered in this section are: Demography and Human Resources and related issues. Behavioural and social issues and social welfare problems, such as child labour, gender equality, adult literacy, rehabilitation of the handicapped and other deprived segments on the society, drug abuse, public health, corruption in public life, communal harmony etc.

Hence it is beneficial at all the stages of preparation of Civil Service Exam and post entering the services as well.  

SCORING AND A SAFE OPTIONAL:

There have been several instances where candidates without having any speciality in Sociology have obtained high scores. The key to scoring high is to understand the different elements of Sociology and preparing in an organised way. Sociology is made up of different components and all the components are inter-related with one another. One develops this ability of understanding these inter-relations under appropriate guidance and obtaining the right material. Even an average aspirant can score higher under appropriate guidance.

 Check the success rate of Sociology in UPSC here.

Few common reasons among the aspirants for selecting Sociology as an optional:

  • One of the most common reasons is that Sociology is a high scoring optional provided an aspirant follows a proper strategy.
  • Aspirants coming from any academic background especially science background can easily cover the syllabus in a short duration as the syllabus is relatively short.
  • It helps across various stages of preparation of CSE and post allotment of service as well.
  • Sociology can be very interesting as most people are well aware of the subject matter i.e. society, functional aspect, social change etc. and it can be inter-related.

Sociology optional comprises of two papers where paper 1 deals with static part of the syllabus i.e. it is more theoretical and thus not much current affairs can be incorporated. Paper 1 is commonly known as thinker’s paper. 6 thinkers included here are Karl Marx, Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, Talcott Parsons, R.K. Merton and Mead. Although the thinker’s part is hardly 10 percent of the entire syllabus, from the examination point of view, the weightage is almost 70%. On the other hand, paper 2 of sociology is a practical paper which comprises of sociology of India. Various dimensions can be added based on the current realities in our society. Facts are to be proved backed by solid explanations.

SOCIOLOGY SYLLABUS FOR MAINS

PAPER 1:

FUNDAMENTALS OF SOCIOLOGY

  1. Sociology – The Discipline:
  • Modernity and social changes in Europe and emergence of sociology. 
  • Scope of the subject and comparison with other social sciences. 
  • Sociology and common sense.
  1. Sociology as Science:
  • Science, scientific method and critique.
  • Major theoretical strands of research methodology.
  • Positivism and its critique.
  • Fact value and objectivity.
  • Non- positivist methodologies.
  1. Research Methods and Analysis:
  • Qualitative and quantitative methods.
  • Techniques of data collection.
  • Variables, sampling, hypothesis, reliability and validity.
  1. Sociological thinkers:
  • Karl Marx- Historical materialism, mode of production, alienation, class struggle.
  • Emile Durkheim- Division of labour, social fact, suicide, religion and society. 
  • Max Weber- Social action, ideal types, authority, bureaucracy, protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism.
  • Talcolt Parsons- Social system, pattern variables.
  • Robert K. Merton- Latent and manifest functions, conformity and deviance, reference groups.
  • Mead – Self and identity.
  1. Stratification and Mobility:
  • Concepts- equality, inequality, hierarchy, exclusion, poverty and deprivation. 
  • Theories of social stratification- Structural functionalist theory, Marxist theory, Weberian theory.
  • Dimensions – Social stratification of class, status groups, gender, ethnicity and race.
  • Social mobility- open and closed systems, types of mobility, sources and causes of mobility.
  1. Works and Economic Life:
  • Social organization of work in different types of society- slave society, feudal society, industrial /capitalist society. 
  • Formal and informal organization of work.
  • Labour and society.
  1. Politics and Society:
  • Sociological theories of power.
  • Power elite, bureaucracy, pressure groups, and political parties.
  • Nation, state, citizenship, democracy, civil society, ideology.
  • Protest, agitation, social movements, collective action, revolution.
  1. Religion and Society:
  • Sociological theories of religion.
  • Types of religious practices: animism, monism, pluralism, sects, cults. 
  • Religion in modern society: religion and science, secularization, religious revivalism, fundamentalism.
  1. Systems of Kinship:
  • Family, household, marriage.
  • Types and forms of family.
  • Lineage and descent.
  • Patriarchy and sexual division of labour.
  • Contemporary trends.
  1. Social Change in Modern Society:
  • Sociological theories of social change.
  • Development and dependency.
  • Agents of social change.
  • Education and social change.
  • Science, technology and social change.

PAPER 2

INDIAN SOCIETY: STRUCTURE AND CHANGE

  1. Introducing Indian Society:
  2. Perspectives on the study of Indian Society
  3. Impact of colonial rule on Indian Society
  4. Social Structure:
  5. Rural and Agrarian Social Structure
  6. Caste System
  7. Tribal communities in India
  8. Social Classes in India
  9. Systems of Kinship in India
  10. Religion and Society
  11. Social Changes in India:
  12. Visions of Social Change in India
  13. Rural and Agrarian transformation in India
  14. Industrialization and Urbanisation in India
  15. Politics and Society
  16. Social Movements in Modern India
  17. Population Dynamics
  18. Challenges of Social Transformation

 

RECOMMENDED BOOKS (FOR MAINS)

Paper 1:

  • Sociology, Haralambos,5th Edition
  • Sociological Theory by George Ritzer and Douglas J. Goodman (VI edition)
  • 11th and 12th NCERT Sociology
  • Sociology – A Guide to Problems and Literature, T.B. Bottomore.
  • Thinkers – Abraham Morgan
  • IGNOU material

Paper 2:

  • 11th and 12th NCERT – Sociology
  • IGNOU notes
  • Social change in Modern India – M.N. Srinivas
  • Modernisation of Indian Tradition – Yogendra Singh
  • Social Tradition in India – Yogendra Singh
  • A handbook of Sociology – Veena Das (Selective Reading)
  • Current Affairs – Yojana, Hindu

The linkage between the 2 papers happens to be the best part of Sociology. A candidate shouldn’t approach these 2 papers exclusively but as one entity and in an intertwined fashion.

 

THE RIGHT APPROACH

Sociology syllabus is pretty vast and comprehensive but can be tackled with a proper strategy. Let’s work out an approach with a few tips on how to tackle this paper:

  • Keep the syllabus handy and ensure to have it at the back of your mind. This helps in gaining a right perspective.
  • Foundation is the most important thing as most questions can be attempted successfully if the concepts are clear.
  • The backbone of Sociology is the thinkers. Have a thorough understanding rather than only specific terms.
  • Sociology being a theory subject, it is crucial to understand what various terms mean and also the jargons of the subject. This helps in writing own notes and in analysing various concepts.
  • Referring to the previous year’s papers is a very important step for any aspirant to understand what kind of questions can be expected in the exam.
  • Once you have completed reading the primary material, it is extremely essential to back this up with some value add from the secondary sources. One can search for any new information, cases and books which can be included in your notes. This helps in answer writing where one is expected to keep the answers comprehensive and diversified.
  • It is imperative to add dynamism in the answer especially when it comes to Paper 2. You can include some reports, data or any relevant findings. One can also include different opinions expressed in the editorials of newspapers like HINDU. Having said that, it is also essential to present the social issues as it is and creating a rosy picture just to please the examiner. Present the exact nature of the issues and have a balanced opinion which is exactly what UPSC demands.
  • A multi-dimensional approach while interpreting things is what creates a balanced opinion.

 

 ANSWER WRITING

Answer writing practice is pivotal in one’s UPSC preparation. The writing style is extremely important to get a good score. The key in sociology is to keep the language as simple as possible and as relevant as possible. One can extensively use views of thinkers and sociologists, case studies, book references, etc. But one should not add case studies without seeing the relevance part of it as this may lead to negative marking. Find below a few tips which will aid one to write better answers in the mains paper:

  • Structure is the backbone of answer writing. A well-structured answer appeals to the examiner and ensures has a logical flow while reading it. Practice answer writing regularly and take up mock tests which helps you structure the answers on the D-day without much effort. This ensures one can get better marks.
  • It is crucial to be objective in one’s answers and have a balanced opinion. Providing a logical and strong conclusion justifies the argument.
  • One should aim to write effective answers within the prescribed word limit. The time constraint during the exam can be overcome by practising answer writing as there will not be enough time to comprehend and write.
  • An answer should be such that it must be balanced and the opinion should be free from prejudice.
  • The structure should represent the flow of writing with interlinking of sub topics and paragraphs explaining the scope meaning, description and discussion.

One of the best approaches to Sociology is to make a mind map for each topic and use the views of thinkers as and when necessary.