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How to prepare Sociology Optional for IAS Exam

Strategy to Prepare Sociology Optional

Sociology has ever been popular optional subject in Civil Services (Prelims and mains) Examination and during previous years its popularity has even increased substantially with the tremendous performance shown by scores of candidates.

Nonetheless some deserving candidates fail To perform better to make their names appear in the list. This does not happen due to their lack of knowledge or understanding of the subject but primarily it is so because they lack proper guidance to tackle the subject in a right direction.

Here my endeavour shall be to make the subject intelligible, easier and tricky so that even an average candidate may have the honour to reach the prestigious score of 350.

Sociology: A safer optional subject

No special knowledge or academic background is required for the preparation of Sociology as an optional subject. Numerous evidences show that candidates without any special skill in Sociology have obtained high scores. The basic requirement of high scoring is actually the understanding of different elements of Sociology in right direction and making their use in a well-arranged and well-organised way. In other words, it can be said that Sociology is made up of different elements and all the elements are inter-related with each other in one or other way. How do we take up or understand these inter-relations, all depends on our personal ability. We develop this ability with the help of standard books and notes but sharpen it only under appropriate guidance, because books and notes are equally available to everyone, however, extraction of needful material from them varies from person to person. Here an appropriate guidance makes it easier even to an average student. A real guidance, through some novel approaches, makes any subject so much acceptable that a curiosity of reading and understanding the subject is easily born in us and that further paves the way for securing high marks.

Sociology 1st paper is commonly known as Thinker’s paper. There are six thinkers namely Karl Marx, Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, Talcott Parsons, R.K. Merton and Mead mentioned herein. So, the candidates are required to focus heavily on thinkers and that almost completes the 1st paper. In this context, I wrote a book on thinkers in Hindi entitled with (समाजशास्त्रीय विचारधारा के मुख्य सचेतक) earlier; the English version of which is on the verge of its completion. It will solve most of thinker's related problems.

Thinkers’ part is scaled as nearly 10 percent of the total syllabus of first paper but from the examination point of view, its corresponding weightage is almost 70 percent. In this way 90 percent of the syllabus covers only 30 percent of questions. Therefore, your focus on the syllabus should be in the same ratio ie, 70:30 and not 10:90.

It can be summarized in the following formula

  • T : O :: 70 : 30

  • Here, T stands for Thinkers’ part

  • O stands for other parts

  • and f stands for focus.

Still the very question “ how to write better answer” remains unanswered. I will not leave this burden on your head. So, apart from giving you sufficient and appropriate notes, I will discuss each and every question on the related topic in the class-room (the question so far asked and expected to be asked) and provide you their better answers.

To make you expert in answer-writing I will discuss some new approaches which you are required to insert in your answers. That, while giving you an extra edge in comparison to others, will created a right impression before the examiner which, in turn, will fetch you good marks.

The aforesaid approaches I will discuss in the coming sections.

Gifted advantages of Sociology

1. In General studies (1st paper): Questions varying from 20 marks to 50 marks are asked from social problems, do not require any special effort to deal with. The preparation of sociology will complete this portion.

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.

2. In Essay paper: There are two to four topics directly based on social problems, which would be arranged in a very systematic and logical manner. Sociology students always remain in comfort zone in making a better presentation and obtaining good marks.

3. In Interview: Most of the current-based and situation-based questions have direct link with social problems. A Sociology student has already been groomed for such questions. He has built-in platform to tackle social problems. His updated knowledge makes him a perfect interviewee and interviewers seek no boundation in awarding him marks.

Role of Case studies in Sociology

Sociology 2nd paper is basically a practical paper. Its facts are required to be proved with the help of solid reasons. The reasons are found in the form of case studies, which make our answers authentically powerful, if used appropriately. Altogether our analysis matching with these case studies put the answer at its perfection.

Case studies and analysis are greatly inter-related. Both are complementary to each other. One’s existence is incomplete and worthless with other’s absence.

Some Myths about case studies

1. Addition of many more case studies pleases the examiner and he gives plenty of marks.

Truth: This kind of thinking is completely baseless and wrong. Case studies are no doubt very essential but be careful, each case study has the ability to render a big truth and that requires sufficient analysis. There are two facts in this context.

(a) When we write the answer in limited words and time constraint, we can not take the support of too many studies also because most parts of our answer are covered by analysis. Therefore, some studies and their analysis make the answer complete.

(b) If within word-limitation we focus mostly on case studies, we do not get time and words to analyse them, then our answer will appear as incomplete and unorganized.

2. The nature of case studies is not as important as their number.

Truth: The nature of studies is very important. Along with some old studies you must try to give some new studies. That effort is highly appreciated. The reason behind is that most of the studies have been conducted in 60s and 70s. The 21st century society has met with a drastic change vis-à-vis the decade of 60s and 70s. The level of change has gone to such an extent that if both the societies are brought face to face, it would be quite difficult to tell that they have a difference of only 30-40 years.

So it is advisable here to manoeuvre some new studies for which appropriate journals and magazines are recommended. Moreover, one thing needs to be disclosed here that examiners feel bored finding same case studies in everyone’s answer-sheets, they want some new version and your effort in this direction may create miracle.

We will see in the following examples what mistakes are generally done by candidates in the use of case studies.

Example (1): Explain the traditional power structure in rural India. Discuss the factors that have contributed to its changing pattern in recent years.

General Answer: The abolition of privileges and economic rights of the intermediaries like the Zamindars and feudal has though not succeeded in introducing an egalitarian class-structure in villages, yet it has made a great social psychological impact on ex-tenant groups and motivates them now for competition with traditional power groups for access to positions of power and social status. Village leadership has now increasingly become more conciliatory and pragmatic in orientation. With the traditional bases of power for the older village elite having been removed, the leadership, which is now emerging, has to reconcile with factions and opposite interest groups to stay in power.

In order to be effective, leaders now have to be pragmatic; exercise contract through informal relations and integrate bureaucratic innovations.

Comment: A very impressive introduction but still there is no mention of decentralistion process and empowerment of women. This addition will make it highly impressive.

  • Now candidates give plenty of studies to prove it.

Orenstein reports that informal leaders are more effective in the village he studied (a village in Bombay) than formal leaders.

Alan Beals found the village leadership in Namhalli (Mysore) faction-ridden and villagers prone to rely on a leader who had the capacity of successful action. Factional basis leadership also seems to be the case in the village of Morsalli in Banglore district studied by William Mc Cormack.

R. Bachenheimer finds in the Andhra village Padu, that leadership is in the hand of economically dominant families within each caste and wealth plus high caste status determine leadership.

Edward and L.G. harper find the continuity of traditional form of leadership in village Totagadde in Karnataka.

According to Oscar Lewis traditional dominant Jats hold leadership in Rampur village in North India. He observes four characteristics of Jat leadership:

(a) the tendency to minimize the status difference between the leader and the led within the caste,
(b) resistance to delegate the authority to leaders permanently without consultation with the appropriate faction,
(c) Complete absence of youth leadership,
(d) Lack of direct note of women in leadership.

This pattern may not be typical of all northern villages.

According to a survey conducted by Planning Commission, the structure of rural leadership seems still dominated by rich and upper caste groups but there is a tendency towards recruitment of younger members to the leadership role in villages and a majority of leaders are literate.

Change in economic field also led to a change in leadership. It was proved by F.G. Bailey in his study of Bisipara village. Bailey found that Boad and Ganjam distillers left their traditional work and village and went to the town for better employment. They improved their economic strength and after returning back to their village, showed interest in leadership.

Andre Beteille, in Sripuram village, found that there has been a change in the power structure of village without the traditional land-owning groups having lost their land to any substantial extent. He observes that today political power, whether in the village or outside it, is not as closely tied to ownership of land as it was in past. New bases of power have emerged which are, to some extent, independent of both caste and class. Perhaps most important among these is the strength of numerical power.

The findings of Beteille shows an instance of regional variation. In this context, an evaluation of twelve villages of India from different regions by B.S. Cohn is very conclusive. In six villages land control also compensates for lack of numerical dominance.

Conclusion: Generally speaking, there has been a break in the centripetal world view of castes and classes in most villages in India. A great level of change has come as a result of politicization of villages through the contemporary political reforms. It has also been motivated by community development schemes which now cover almost all the villages in India.

Comment: Case studies have been very beautifully presented and simultaneously there is no proper analysis. The complete answer is full of studies but is not looking focused, because the facts have not been analysed appropriately. Sometimes it seems as if some contradictory statements have been given. So, do tell and discuss the right causes responsible for the faction (if you are so talking about) in villages and also how they are supporting to change the power-structure.


1. Give greater emphasis on 73rd Amendment Act.
2. Discuss the reservations given to SC/ST, women and backward class.
3. How did it bring changes in power-structure, corroborate with a few studies(one or two)
4. Discuss different programmes for the upliftment of poor sections and women empowerment/emphasis on female participation in politics/impact of women’s Reservation Bill.
5. After giving all studies in a paragraph, discuss mainly about empowerment, democratic decentralization, mass participation in administration, awareness among people, etc.
6. More than a decade have gone after the implementation of Panchayati Raj, we have enormous studies on it, place a few of them rightly.
7. Give the views of Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen.
8. Give the opinion of World Bank in the very age of Globalisation in this context.

Generally candidates do not mention about Panchayati Raj because they think there is no substantial impact of it on masses.

Your View point: Do tell that the level of changes is not upto the mark, why? Corroborate it by studies, but keep telling that the change is taking place-though dimensions are varying, like, there is caste-based faction, Dalit consciousness has increased –Reason? The influence of Dalit leaders at rural level (Politicisation of power in the name of Dalit Class) etc.

  • After such analysis, give a powerful conclusion.

Example (2): Joint family is dissociating into nuclear family. Analyse the statement.

General Answer: Definition of joint family- Its characteristics/Definition of nuclear family-its characteristics/Nuclear Families in two different sovietise (In western countries and in India’s poor Dalit class)-externally both look alike but internally they are quite different. Nuclear family has been defined on the basis of western country’s structure and so that is the real nuclear family. In western countries, nuclear family is a part of their system while that of in India is due to economic crunch situation.

Now, in India, it is no more limited upto lower caste poor people but has been institutionalized universally. Many sociologists have analysed it and0 have admitted not only its disintegration but also attempted to give the factors responsible for this disintegration. In this regard, they told one more important thing that in western countries that separation was both physical and mental while in India it was only physical. People in India are always mentally joint. This is the finding of I.P Desai which was later on approved by K.M. Kapadia.

Comment: Introduction of the answer is excellent but there is one thing lacking here. The analysis of physical and mental separation should be socio-psychological ie, there should be stress on socialization process. Discuss briefly the socialization-pattern of both the countries and its impact on the child being socialized as to why at one place he becomes emotionless while at the other place he is emotionally attached to his family members.

Now candidates describe so many case studies like the analysis and conclusion of I.P Desai/ the analysis and conclusion of K.M. Kapadia / the opinion poll conducted by Indian Institute of Public opinion – conclusion/ study of Delhi’s Agrawal families by M.S. Gore – Conclusion/ the study, analysis and conclusion of P.M. Kolenda, apart from it, three main causes for integration – divorce and remarriage, payment of bride wealth and dowry and uxori laterality vs. virilaterality study and analysis of Banglore by Aileen Ross, etc.

Then candidates write the conclusion that the outcome of all these studies is that the joint family is disintegrating into nuclear family. Though the direction of change is unlike western countries but still the smaller form of family is universal phenomena.


1. The aim of most of the sociologists is to find the percentage of jointness and nuclearity in the concerned society. Their studies and conclusions are mostly alike. So try to give them in one or two paragraphs.
2. Among all these studies, the study of Ross is very important. Because she has focused on those issues which are useful for even today’s families and in which the issue of children’s freedom is most important.
3. Discuss the impact of different Acts or laws related to family or marriage ie, the impact in thinking process, behaviour, freedom of children and also its negative impact.
4. Impact of Globalisation, Privatisation and liberalization on society, also the impact of Panchayati Raj, etc.
5. The impact of communication system and media on society and so on family system – Awareness level of people has tremendously raised, it paved the way to understand and analyse the world and in this way a complete change in their world-view.
6. Empowerment emancipated women – their decision making capacity increased – they can no more carry the traditional Purdah system – consequences of all these – in the form of a big generation-gap and that leads to change in family-system.
7. Lastly give an emphatic conclusion.

Discussion on the Tail-Words of the questions

Every tail-word has a specific meaning and its understanding is quite essential for a candidate to make his answer perfect. Here I am describing some important tail-words to resolve your problem related with the understanding of the question.

  • Explain: To simplify the given statement. To write about the statement (may be based on theory) in such a way that its meaning becomes clear and unequivocal.

  • Describe: It means general writing about the subject, is, giving straight forward discussion on different aspects of the given subject. In a simple language it can be said that whatever your know about the subject, write it systematically. No special ‘approach’ is needed.

  • Discuss: Like ‘Describe’

  • Elaborate: To ‘describe’ elaborately.

  • Analyse: First break the statement in different parts, then describe them separately and then give a systhesis.

  • Examine: Highlight different aspects of the given subject and then throw light on relevancy and fruitfullnes of each aspect.

  • Criticise : Here both positive and negative aspects should be taken into account but still the emphasis should be on negative aspect.

  • Review: Like ‘criticise’

  • Evaluate: Writing a conclusion after discussing different aspects of the statement. Here, conclusion has special importance.

  • Elucidate: Describing with appropriate examples.

  • Critically Evaluate: Criticism in the approach of evaluation.

  • Critically Review: Criticism in the approach of review i.e., after giving criticism of the theory, criticise the critiques.

  • Critically examine: First ‘describe’ - Its positive + negative then ‘criticise’ - Its positive + negative. Now make a balance between the two.

Short Notes Type Questions

In both the papers, question number ‘1’ and ‘5’ are compulsory and are in the form of short notes. For each such question, three out of four short notes are required to be written for which the word limit is 200. As a convenience, you have 13 minutes of time for each short notes from which you can allot 1-1½ min. for framing the answer. This is the area which gives you the apportunity to score 75 percent of marks easily, for which you need to be conscious at certain points, like :

1. Write your answer straight forward without any introduction.
2. Your word-limit should not cross 220 mark.
3. Use an easy and free flow language to make your description easily understandable.

4. Try to ascertain the points on which more emphasis is given. Your answer should revolve around that point. For example if you have to write short notes on “value-free sociology”, So first tell its meaning and then quote some sociologists who have tried to establish sociology as value neutral. Now discuss some problems which restrict sociology to be value free and the contradictions in the thoughts of sociologists at this concept like Max Weber, a main proponent of value free sociology, has adopted ‘subjective meaning’ and ‘verstehen approach’ similarly Emile Durkheim advocated to consider social facts as things and simultaneously for ‘collective conscience’. Finally give a conclusion in form of a practical solution.

5. If the topic so requires, you may finish the short notes abruptly is, without giving any conclusion. For example, short notes on ‘Mode of production’ do not require any conclusion and criticism.
6. Your knowledge of strong vocabulary is always appreciated. Writing more in limited words is an art and does not come suddenly. It requires a continuous effort and a right feedback.
7. In short notes, your ‘accuracy’ and ‘exactness’ and not your wide knowledge is praised. Though knowledge of the subject is indispensable but the arrangement of elements at right place is the measurement of ‘exactness’.
8. If required, you can mention one or two case studies briefly.

Classroom Technique

Any topic which is to be studied, should not be studied straight-forword but rather should be broken in different possible dimensions having any kind of connection with the topic in answer writing, select related dimensions according to the nature of the question. This technique will help you complete your answer. An illustration of this technique is given as follows:

Kark Marx : Theory of class-struggle

1. Introduction

2. Definition of class

3. Different classes in different ages : Role of mode of production
(a) Meaning of MOP - Its two aspects : (i) Material (Forces of Production) (ii) Social (Relations of Production)
(b) Concept of substructure (Economic structure) and infrastructure/superstructure.
(c) Changing form of MOP - A special characteristic.
(d) Change in MOP - Beginning of a new age (Primitive communism-Ancient-feudal - Capitalistic)
(e) In capitalism : 'Class-in-itself' changes into 'class-for-itself' : full consciousness
(f) Emergence of communism - A new MOP where change stops.

4. Beginning and development of capitalism-two different classes.
(i) Bourgeoisie (ii) Proletariat

5. Forced labourers : Sale-purchase of their labour power

6. Emergence of false-consciousness in Proletariat - Role of Religion

7. Surplus value & Profit - Maximisation

8. (a) Automation and Problem of unemployment among workers.
(b) Overproduction and end of Petty Bourgeoisie.

9. Alienation in Proletariat
(a) Meaning of Alienation
(b) Meaning - elaboration : (i) Economic aspect (ii) Social aspect
(c) Dominance of Specializaion - Alienation at its zenith.
(d) Religious explanation of Alienation
(e) Relevancy of Alienation
(f) Criticism

10. Polarisation of two classes - Due to some processes like Homogenisation, Pauperization, Monopolisation.

11. Change of 'class-in-itself' into 'class-for-itself'
(a) Meaning of 'class-in-itself'
(b) 'Class-in-itself' : Objective Reality
(c) Position of labourers -from slaves of Ancient age till alienated Proletariat of capitalistic age - 'class-in-itself'
(d) 'Class-for-itself' : Subjective perception
(e) Polarisation of two classes and role of Petty Bourgeoisie responsible for change of class-in-itself into class-for-itself - A situation of full consciousness of Proletariat

12. Historical Revolution

13. Establishment of Communism

14. Criticism: (a) Functionalist: (i) Parsons (ii) Davis & Moore (iii) M.M. Tumin  (iv) Eva Rosenfeld (v) Michael Young
(b) Conflict theorists: (i) Max Weber (ii) Ralf Dahrendorf

15 Relevancy of Marx's theory

Recommended Books (For Mains)

1. Thinkers - Abraham Morgan
2. Sociology : Themes and Perspectives - Haralambos | Buy Online
3. IGNOU material
4. Modernization of Indian Tradition - Y. Singh | Buy Online
5. Social change and stratification - Y. Singh
6. Social change in Modern India - M.N. Sriniwas | Buy Online
7. Social Background of Indian Nationalism - A. R. Desai | Buy Online
8. Household Dimensions of the Family - A. M. Shah
9. A Hand book of Sociology - Veena Das | Buy Online

Courtesy: Daksh