Sociology Optional - Why, What and How

Updated: May 13, 2021

A thorough hold over optional subject can give you an edge in the Mains examination, taking you closer to the magic numbers required to get your name in the final list. Sociology is one of the most chosen optional by UPSC aspirants. You can score up to 327 marks in the subject, adding substantially to your final tally.

This blog will introduce you to Sociology optional. It will discuss the advantages and challenges, provide you with a list of reference books and give you an overall perspective related to study and answer writing approach for Sociology.

A Popular Choice - As an optional, Sociology checks all the boxes. It is a popular choice among aspirants, specially from a technical background. The popularity of this subject rests on the following advantages

● Easy to understand, applicability in GS Paper 1, and Essay Paper.

● Practical application on field

● Availability of study material and coaching

● Comfortable length of syllabus

However, one needs to take into account the challenges associated with this subject as well. This will basically make you aware of your approach towards Sociology preparation as well.

● Popular hence competitive subject

● Theoretical subject, lots of thinkers and theories, can be confusing

● Sociology is different from common sense and has a specific language and research methodology

● Need for constant innovation and upgradation in answers

● Problem of plenty in study material

Don't get discouraged by this list though! You can easily turn it to your strengths by following the tips we shall discuss.

Reference Material - It is mandatory to curate a good reference material that suits your style and need. It is the numero uno principle. You will find that the market is flooded with books and notes, but stick to the basics -

- IGNOU Notes (Social thinkers)

- C.N Shankar Rao for both papers (new to the subject, easy to read, comprehensive)

- George Ritzer (orange)

- Ram Ahuja (selected chapters)

- News articles, EPW, and Yojana (for examples and factual information)

Previous Year Question Paper Analysis- It is necessary to know the general trend of questions and weightage of each topic. Here is the previous year mark based and topic wise analysis of previous year question papers -



Study Approach - Paper 1 and Paper 2 in Sociology, or per se any optional cannot be studied in isolation. They are connected, and your ability to present these interlinkages will fetch you marks in your mains examination. You should be able to connect the thinkers, their concepts to relevant topics in Paper 2. For example, you could connect stratification, views of Weber, to caste system in India and compare Weber's perspective to that of Ambedkar.

Begin with simple topics like stratification, inequality, gender etc. These seem common place, but when you study them sociologically, you will develop a mature perspective. These topics are relevant to our lives and hence a newbie can start with them. Once you are comfortable, move on to the theoretical part.

The 5 founding fathers and other thinkers form the core of your subject. If you get a strong hold on these topics, you cover about 50% of your syllabus and enhance your chances of scoring better.

Note Taking - Note taking is an art, and an essential skill in Sociology when you have to cover a vast syllabus. Make your notes crisp and clear. Focus on concepts, and keep space for updating the notes. Pick your own examples from the real world. Jot down the news items connected to specific topic.

For example, if you are studying poverty and deprivation, your notes should consist of definition of poverty, different sociological perspectives about poverty,and facts from recent reports like the report on national incomes, human development index ,global poverty index etc. Keep your syllabus and question bank with you while studying or browsing the papers and magazines. Mug up the syllabus so that you start developing a Sociological vocabulary. Draw and refine your mind maps and flow charts. You could create them based on concepts, works of thinkers etc.

Answer Writing - Your study approach and note taking has a direct bearing on your answer writing. Remember to maintain the interconnection between both the papers. However, understand what the examiner wants to know! Even if the main points are same, the structure of the answer will change.

When you are asked about inequality, (Rising inequality is a fundamental concern for the world today. Elucidate)

For Paper 1, your answer format should be as follows -

- state the definition

- works and views of different thinkers - Marx , Weber, Pareto, Giddens

- quote a recent example, rising inequality and violence (Syria, Egypt, Congo)

- or state a fact from a report.( HDI, Gini coefficient)

But when the question on inequality is asked in Paper 2, your approach should be as follows-

- primary focus should be on consequences and examples of inequality. (Gender, regional disparity, rising civil unrest, quotes from World Economic Forum etc

- Here the facts and illustrations become the Central body of your answer

- strengthen it by quoting prominent thinkers correctly. (Marx on capitalism, Pareto on elite theory)

Bringing Innovation in Answers - In a competitive subject like Sociology, being innovative in your answers becomes a necessity to score well. This can be achieved through providing examples, creating flowcharts and diagrams to explain your ideas clearly and creatively.

Example of mind map

Sociology is a live subject. It connects you to the real world and equips you to understand its workings. Recent developments in the subject link it society-technology interactions, urbanization and the entire debate about the course of development and the choices we shall make as a species. It will enrich you not only in terms of your marks, but also in terms of your perspective!

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