UPSC Mains: Sociology or Anthropology Optional?

Selecting an optional subject for the UPSC IAS mains is a big conundrum for the aspirants. A lot of candidates worry for days about which optional subject to choose.  Sociology and anthropology are both reasonably popular optional subjects and are related to each other too in many ways. Read on to find out which optional subject suits you the best: sociology or anthropology?

What is sociology?

Sociology is a social science that studies social behaviour or society, including its origins, development, organisation, networks and institutions. It deals with the functioning of human society and also of social problems.

What is anthropology?

“Anthropology is the study of peoples of the world, their evolutionary history, behaviour, adaptation to different environments, and how they communicate and socialise with one another.” It deals with both the biology aspect of humans as well as the social aspects.

How are sociology and anthropology related to each other?

Both subjects are social sciences that study human beings and human behaviour. The following table compares both the subjects and gives you an idea of what you will encounter when you read either of the subjects.

Subject Sociology Anthropology
Talks about Society and how it shapes human nature/behaviour. What does it mean to be human? Human behaviour.
Emphasis Society, origins, development, classes, movements. Culture, physical and social characteristics like kinship, language, gender, religion, etc.
Historical basis Studying industrialised Western societies. Studying non-Western societies.
Methodology Quantitative (survey, sampling) Qualitative (ethnography)
Focus Macro-level (how society affects individuals/families) Micro-level (how individuals/families interact with society)
Orientation Towards problem-solving (housing, urban planning, etc.) Towards human understanding.
Includes Economics and statistics. Archaeology, biology.

What do the numbers say?

Take a look at the following table: If you look at the success rates, both the years show contrasting values. But yes, if you look at the number of candidates opting for an optional, sociology is up the ladder compared to anthropology. It seems more popular.

Year 2008 2015 2017
Subject Sociology Anthropology Sociology Anthropology Sociology Anthropology
Number appeared for mains 1555 345 2490 579 1421 345
Number recommended 89 37 230 38 137 37
Success rate percentage 5.7 10.7 9.2 6.3 9.6 10.7

How is sociology better?

  • On average, it has a higher number of takers. More candidates seem to think sociology is the better optional.
  • It has a relatively shorter syllabus. See UPSC syllabus for sociology optional.
  • It is easy to understand.
  • It has less science compared to anthropology making it more popular with humanities graduates.
  • It is a scoring subject.
  • There is more overlap with general studies papers.
  • It helps in essay paper too as at least one essay on social issues is generally asked.
  • Sociology also aids in ethics paper and the interview stage.

 How is anthropology better?

  • It is the better choice for science students especially those with a biology background.
  • It is also scoring owing to its scientific nature.
  • It has a very short syllabus (shorter than sociology). See UPSC syllabus for anthropology.
  • For anthropology writing skills are not that important as sociology.
  • It doesn’t include statistical tools, unlike sociology.

Ultimately, it is important to choose an optional for the UPSC mains that interests you. Considering the pro’s and con’s, availability of material, the scoring pattern in the subject over the years is essential while making the choice.

Also, Check out:

 List of optionals to choose from, for UPSC Mains.
Political Science Vs. Sociology for UPSC
Sociology or Geography for UPSC
Sociology Vs Public Administration for UPSC


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