UPSC Anthropology Optional Coaching

by Vajiram & Ravi

Date of Commencement

June 2024




To be announced later

Course Time

To be announced later

UPSC Anthropology Optional Coaching

About UPSC Anthropology Optional Subject

One of the most popular optional subjects in the UPSC Civil Services Exam is Anthropology. Being a comprehensive science, it also touches on several aspects of sociology, archaeology, biology, and primatology, including the evolution of humans. Because it deepens our awareness of ourselves and our society, this multidisciplinary approach makes it intriguing to study.

Paper I deals with the portion of the discipline that straddles the Humanities and Sciences. It contains many research methodologies for examining a range of topics, such as social structure, religion, economic systems, etc.

Paper II principally emphasizes on Indian Society and Tribes, including the cultural diversity of the tribe and the challenges they are currently experiencing as a result of contemporary forces of change. Additionally, it contains government initiatives for their development, which are highly dynamic and comprise recent advances.

It is one of the most scientific of the Humanities and most humane of all sciences which makes this discipline highly logical, analytical and yet easy to understand. The foundation established in Anthropology can be used to potentially build a significant portion of understanding in General Studies. Most importantly, it aids in the development of a multidisciplinary perspective, which is helpful for the Essay paper.

As a result, anthropology aims to increase an aspirant’s awareness and compassion, two qualities that are crucial for future civil servants.

Anthropology Optional Syllabus

Paper I

1.1 Meaning, Scope and development of Anthropology.

1.2 Relationships with other disciplines : Social Sciences, behavioural Sciences, Life Sciences, Medical Sciences, Earth Sciences and Humanities.

1.3 Main branches of Anthropology, their scope and relevance:

(a) Social-cultural Anthropology.

(b) Biological Anthropology.

(c) Archaeological Anthropology.

(d) Linguistic Anthropology.

1.4 Human Evolution and emergence of Man:

(a) Biological and Cultural factors in human evolution.

(b) Theories of Organic Evolution (Pre-Darwinian, Darwinian and Post-Darwinian).

(c) Synthetic theory of evolution; Brief outline of terms and concepts of evolutionary biology (Doll’s rule, Cope’s rule, Gause’s rule, parallelism, convergence, adaptive radiation, and mosaic evolution).

1.5 Characteristics of Primates; Evolutionary Trend and Primate Taxonomy; Primate Adaptations; (Arboreal and Terrestrial) Primate Taxonomy; Primate Behaviour; Tertiary and Quaternary fossil primates; Living Major Primates; Comparative Anatomy of Man and Apes; Skeletal changes due to erect posture and its implications.

1.6 Phylogenetic status, characteristics and geographical distribution of the following :

(a) Plio-preleistocene hominids in South and East Africa—Australopithecines.

(b) Homo erectus : Africa (Paranthropus), Europe (Homo erectus (heidelbergensis), Asia (Homo erectus javanicus, Homo erectus pekinensis.

(c) Neanderthal man—La-chapelle-aux-saints (Classical type), Mt. Carmel (Progressive type).

(d) Rhodesian man.

(e) Homo saoiens—Cromagnon, Grimaldi and Chancelede.

1.7 The biological basis of Life : The Cell, DNA structure and replication, Protein Synthesis, Gene, Mutation, Chromosomes, and Cell Division.

1.8 (a) Principles of Prehistoric Archaeology. Chronology : Relative and Absolute Dating methods.

(b) Cultural Evolution—Broad Outlines of Prehistoric cultures :

(i) Paleolithic

(ii) Mesolithic

(iii) Neolithic

(iv) Chalcolithic

(v) Copper-Bronze Age

(vi) Iron Age

2.1 The Nature of Culture : The concept and Characteristics of culture and civilization; Ethnocentrism vis-a-vis cultural Relativism.

2.2 The Nature of Society : Concept of Society; Society and Culture; Social Institution; Social groups; and Social stratification.

2.3 Marriage : Definition and universality; Laws of marriage (endogamy, exogamy, hypergamy, hypogamy, incest taboo); Type of marriage (monogamy, polygamy, polyandry, group marriage). Functions of marriage; Marriage regulations (preferential, prescriptive and proscriptive); Marriage payments (bride wealth and dowry).

2.4 Family : Definition and universality; Family, household and domestic groups; functions of family; Types of family (from the perspectives of structure, blood relation, marriage, residence and succession); Impact of urbanization, industrialization and feminist movements on family.

2.5 Kinship : Consanguinity and Affinity; Principles and types of descent (Unilineal, Double, Bilateral Ambilineal); Forms of descent groups (lineage, clan, phratry, moiety and kindred); Kinship terminology (descriptive and classificatory); Descent, Filiation and Complimentary Filiation;Decent and Alliance.

3. Economic Organization : Meaning, scope and relevance of economic anthropology; Formalist and Substantivist debate; Principles governing production, distribution and exchange (reciprocity, redistribution and market), in communities, subsisting on hunting and gathering, fishing, swiddening, pastoralism, horticulture, and agriculture; globalization and indigenous economic systems.

4. Political Organization and Social Control : Band, tribe, chiefdom, kingdom and state; concepts of power, authority and legitimacy; social control, law and justice in simple Societies.

5. Religion : Anthropological approaches to the study of religion (evolutionary, psychological and functional); monotheism and polytheism; sacred and profane; myths and rituals; forms of religion in tribal and peasant Societies (animism, animatism, fetishism, naturism and totemism); religion, magic and science distinguished; magico-religious functionaries (priest, shaman, medicine man, sorcerer and witch).

6. Anthropological theories :

(a) Classical evolutionism (Tylor, Morgan and Frazer)

(b) Historical particularism (Boas) Diffusionism (British, German and American)

(c) Functionalism (Malinowski); Structural— Functionalism (Radcliffe-Brown)

(d) Structuralism (L’evi-Strauss and E. Leach)

(e) Culture and personality (Benedict, Mead, Linton, Kardiner and Cora-du Bois)

(f) Neo—evolutionism (Childe, White, Steward, Sahlins and Service)

(g) Cultural materialism (Harris)

(h) Symbolic and interpretive theories (Turner, Schneider and Geertz)

(i) Cognitive theories (Tyler, Conklin)

(j) Post-modernism in anthropology.

7. Culture, Language and Communication : Nature, origin and characteristics of language; verbal and non-verbal communication; social contex of language use.

8. Research methods in Anthropology

(a) Fieldwork tradition in anthropology

(b) Distinction between technique, method and methodology

(c) Tools of data collection : observation, interview, schedules, questionnaire, case study, genealogy, life-history, oral history, secondary sources of information, participatory methods.

(d) Analysis, interpretation and presentation of data.

9.1 Human Genetics : Methods and Application : Methods for study of genetic principles in man-family study (pedigree analysis, twin study, foster child, co-twin method, cytogenetic method, chromosomal and karyo-type analysis), biochemical methods, immunological methods, D.N.A. technology and recombinant technologies.

9.2 Mendelian genetics in man-family study, single factor, multifactor, lethal, sub-lethal and polygenic inheritance in man.

9.3 Concept of genetic polymorphism and selection, Mendelian population, Hardy-Weinberg law; causes and changes which bring down frequency-mutation, isolation, migration, selection, inbreeding and genetic drift. Consanguineous and non-consanguineous mating, genetic load, genetic effect of consanguineous and cousin marriages.

9.4 Chromosomes and chromosomal aberrations in man, methodology.

(a) Numerical and structural aberrations (disorders).

(b) Sex chromosomal aberration- Klinefelter (XXY), Turner (XO), Super female (XXX), intersex and other syndromic disorders.

(c) Autosomal aberrations- Down syndrome, Patau, Edward and Cri-du-chat syndromes.

(d) Genetic imprints in human disease, genetic screening, genetic counseling, human DNA profiling, gene mapping and genome study.

9.5 Race and racism, biological basis of morphological variation of non-metric and characters. Racial criteria, racial traits in relation to heredity and environment; biological basis of racial classification, racial differentiation and race crossing in man.

9.6 Age, sex and population variation as genetic marker : ABO, Rh blood groups, HLA Hp, transferring, Gm, blood enzymes. Physiological characteristics-Hb level, body fat, pulse rate, respiratory functions and sensory perceptions in different cultural and socio-ecomomic groups.

9.7 Concepts and methods of Ecological Anthropology : Bio-cultural Adaptations—Genetic and Non-genetic factors. Man’s physiological responses to environmental stresses: hot desert, cold, high altitude climate.

9.8 Epidemiological Anthropology : Health and disease. Infectious and non-infectious diseases, Nutritional deficiency related diseases.

10. Concept of human growth and Development : Stages of growth—pre-natal, natal, infant, childhood, adolescence, maturity, senescence.

—Factors affecting growth and development genetic, environmental, biochemical, nutritional, cultural and socio-economic.

—Ageing and senescence. Theories and observations

—Biological and chronological longevity. Human physique and somatotypes. Methodologies for growth studies.

11.1 Relevance of menarche, menopause and other bioevents to fertility. Fertility patterns and differentials.

11.2 Demographic theories-biological, social and cultural.

11.3 Biological and socio-ecological factors influencing fecundity, fertility, natality and mortality.

12. Applications of Anthropology : Anthropology of sports, Nutritional anthropology, Anthropology in designing of defence and other equipments, Forensic Anthropology, Methods and principles of personal identification and reconstruction, Applied human genetics—Paternity diagnosis, genetic counselling and eugenics, DNA technology in diseases and medicine, serogenetics and cytogenetics in reproductive biology.

Paper II

1.1 Evolution of Indian Culture and Civilization— Prehistoric (Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic and Neolithic-Chalcolithic), Protohistoric (Indus Civilization). Pre-Harappan, Harappan and post- Harappan cultures. Contributions of the tribal cultures to Indian civilization.

1.2 Palaeo—Anthropological evidence from India with special reference to Siwaliks and Narmada basin (Ramapithecus, Sivapithecus and Narmada Man).

1.3. Ethno-archaeology in India: The concept of ethno-archaeology; Survivals and Parallels among the hunting, foraging, fishing, pastoral and peasant communities including arts and crafts producing communities.

2. Demographic profile of India—Ethnic and linguistic elements in the Indian population and their distribution. Indian population—factors influencing its structure and growth.

3.1 The structure and nature of the traditional Indian social system—Varnashram, Purushartha, Karma, Rina and Rebirth.

3.2 Caste system in India— Structure and characteristics Varna and caste, Theories of origin of caste system, Dominant caste, Caste mobility, Future of caste system, Jajmani system. Tribe-case continuum.

3.3 Sacred Complex and Nature-Man-Spirit Complex.

3.4. Impact of Buddhism, Jainism, Islam and Christianity of Indian society.

4. Emergence, growth and development in India— Contributions of the 18th, 19th and early 20th Century scholar-administrators. Contributions of Indian anthropologists to tribal and caste studies.

5.1 Indian Village—Significane of village study in India; Indian village as a social system; Traditional and changing patterns of settlement and inter-caste relations; Agrarian relations in Indian villages; Impact of globalization on Indian villages.

5.2 Linguistic and religious minorities and their social, political and economic status.

5.3 Indigenous and exogenous processes of socio-cultural change in Indian society: Sanskritization, Westernization, Modernization; Inter-play of little and great traditions; Panchayati Raj and social change; Media and Social change.

6.1 Tribal situation in India—Bio-genetic variability, linguistic and socio-economic characteristics of the tribal populations and their distribution.

6.2 Problems of the tribal Communities—Land alienation, poverty, indebtedness, low literacy, poor educational facilities, unemployment, under-employment, health and nutrition.

6.3 Developmental projects and their impact on tribal displacement and problems of rehabilitation. Development of forest policy and tribals. Impact of urbanisation and industrialization on tribal populations.

7.1 Problems of exploitation and deprivation of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes. Constitutional safeguards for Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes.

7.2 Social change and contemporary tribal societies : Impact of modern democratic institutions, development programmes and welfare measures on tribals and weaker sections.

7.3 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.

8.1 Impact of Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and other religions on tribal societies.

8.2 Tribe and nation state—a comparative study of tribal communities in India and other countries.

9.1 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.

9.2 Role of anthropology in tribal and rural development.

9.3 Contributions of anthropology to the understanding of regionalism, communalism and ethnic and political movements.

Is Anthropology a good Optional subject for UPSC?

Anthropology has been one of the most popular Optional subjects for UPSC. The inherent advantage of Anthropology as an Optional subject stems from the fact that there is no demand for any previous knowledge in the discipline, and aspirants, irrespective of their academic backgrounds, can master this subject in a reasonably defined period of time. Students from diverse academic backgrounds, from medicine to mechanical engineering and biotechnology to commerce, arts, humanities and engineering, have been opting for this subject and emerging successfully.

Many find the study of the discipline personally and intellectually enriching. Further, the syllabus is well-defined and well-structured. Anthropological analyses and perspectives add value to the subjects in General Studies and in the Essay paper, too. There are a number of areas in General Studies that we discuss as a part of our curriculum in Anthropology, and one need not study them separately again. Regionalism, Communalism, Secularism, Globalisation, SCs, STs, OBCs, Minorities, PVTGs, etc., to name a few. This cuts down a lot of redundancy while preparing for this exam and saves time, a scarce and much-needed resource.

One of the many reasons why this subject is popular is because of the scores that helped to provide the all-important sheet anchor for many aspirants to succeed in this examination. More on this later!

Since Anthropology is not part of the regular academic curriculum in many colleges and universities, an aspirant to this exam is not technically competing with those who already have academic degrees in this subject. There is no competition for you from mainstream Anthropology students, as their number is miniscule. There is a “level playing field” for all those who take Anthropology as their Optional subject.

Anthropology, as an Optional subject, requires very little time to master as compared to many other Optional subjects. With five to six months of well-designed academic inputs, regular answer writing and feedback, one can score very well in this subject. 

Thus, Anthropology as an Optional subject is not time-consuming, cuts down redundancy while preparing for general studies and adds value to other papers in this examination. Even answers can be written in a very simple and systematic way.

Is Anthropology related to another Optional Subject?

The scope of Anthropology touches upon many areas of knowledge – history, political science, development and welfare economics, science and technology, biology, medicine, public administration, geography and even constitutional law. Anthropologists have their own unique perspectives to understand these areas of study. Anthropology adds new intellectual insights and holistic treatment to these topics. Owing to this holistic perspective and comprehensive scope of this discipline, there are some overlaps one can find with Optional subjects like Sociology, History, Geography, Public Administration, Political Science, etc. The basic concepts in society and culture and certain areas of study, like social institutions of marriage, family, kinship, etc., may overlap with Sociology. However, the treatment and insights of these topics are at a variance with Sociology.

Similarly, the areas like the evolution of Indian society and culture from the Indus Valley Civilization to Vedic and Later-Vedic cultures overlap with history. Areas like welfare administration and constitutional provisions/tribal administration, etc., overlap with Public Administration. Certain areas, like Human Genetics, may overlap with Medicine and other Life Sciences. A small portion of Human Geography and Human Ecology overlap with Geography.

It is necessary, however, to keep in mind that our focus on these areas is strictly from anthropological perspectives – evolutionary approach, comparative analysis and holism, which may not necessarily be as such in other subjects.

Is Anthropology a scoring subject in UPSC?

Anthropology indeed has been a scoring subject in UPSC and, as mentioned earlier, has been one of the reasons for its popularity. The subject has been consistently returning high scores in the UPSC exam. The reasons for this are many: the syllabus is well-structured, and an aspirant knows what to study. The questions are objective and straightforward, leaving little scope for misinterpretation. There is very little scope to go completely wrong in the answers owing to the objectivity of the discipline itself. The presentation skills are not very demanding, and it takes a few practice sessions to develop the requisite standards. Anthropology is high-scoring also because most of the answers can be written in points, making it easier to remember the content and the ease with which they can be presented. Some answers can even be supported by simple illustrations with basic drawing skills that are not very demanding.

Anthropology is a blend of both social sciences and natural sciences. As a discipline, Anthropology endeavours to bring the rigours of science in everything it studies and the way the data/information is presented. Hence, aspirants from all academic streams (STEM and Humanities/Social Sciences) find it easy to manoeuvre through this discipline. The Civil Services Examination is about clarity of thought, power of expression and range of application. Anthropology is one discipline that contributes to and enhances an aspirant’s intellectual acumen and broadens the knowledge and connections therein for all the papers - General Studies, Essay and even the Personality Test. Students of Anthropology invariably score high in these papers.

What should be the strategy for the Anthropology Optional in UPSC?

The syllabus for Anthropology is organized into two papers – Paper I and II. Paper I covers broadly two areas of study – Sociocultural Anthropology and Physical Anthropology while Paper II covers Indian Anthropology. Paper 2 can further be classified into General Anthropology and Applied Anthropology.

While Paper I is about concepts and methods of Anthropology and the study of man, his society and culture, its theory and practice, Paper II focuses specifically on Indian society and culture and its various dimensions. While this division of the syllabus is more for the academic convenience of the student, anthropological discussions per se are very holistic in nature and require a comprehensive study that interconnects various topics in the syllabus. Paper 2 is a logical extension of Paper 1, and the latter lays the theoretical foundations for the former.

One of the key challenges is the availability of books specially tailor-made for the purpose of this examination. Aspirants who would like to pursue self-study may require more time than those who are taking advantage of our coaching classes. One should rely only on reliable resources like textbooks and avoid referring to any notes of past aspirants. The standards that are benchmarked for success in this exam, irrespective of the Optional subject, are very high.

Students should follow a structured approach, clearly listing down their study goals and preparing their own notes referring to the various resources. One should ideally start with Paper 1 and then proceed to Paper 2. Since there is some redundancy in the topics and the syllabus is randomly organised, one needs to proceed from basic concepts to higher-order topics like theories. Factual areas like archaeology can be dealt with simultaneously for both Papers 1 and 2.

Indian Anthropology or Paper 2 requires referring to certain government websites for data and information. This is especially for the various development programs meant for SCs, STs, Minorities, etc. However, since these and many other topics are common with GS, one can make comprehensive notes that will help in both.

Answer writing and practising previous-year questions (PYQs) is a must, and even before starting to prepare for a topic or chapter, an aspirant is advised to list down all the PYQs to understand the scope of each and every topic. PYQs should be used as a compass to chart one’s direction for preparation.

Anthropology touches upon every aspect of human life and human living globally. A student of Anthropology should be conscious of the events that may be relevant to the subject and the syllabus and try to include current examples in their answers. Ethnographic examples, theories and concepts that are related to these events should be connected. This ability naturally develops as one proceeds through various topics. This is an important aspect of preparation one should not ignore.

Is guidance/coaching necessary for the Anthropology Optional?

Well, guidance is advised in Anthropology because it is a highly specialized discipline with its own methodologies and approaches. There are some who manage the discipline on their own, but it takes a greater effort and time to do so. Guidance in Anthropology helps in understanding the concepts, clear presentation of ideas in the form of an answer, close monitoring of the progress of a candidate and necessary academic interventions whenever and wherever required.

Moreover, Anthropology is a very dynamic discipline, the latest developments and emerging issues need to be made an integral part of the preparation. A very important aspect of this exam is to know WHAT NOT TO READ rather than what to read! This is especially true when there is an information overload and conflicting perspectives, making guidance from a professional very helpful, if not indispensable. Since very few textbooks are available in the market which are tailor-made for the purpose of this examination, study material and lectures by qualified and experienced faculty are very helpful.

Anthropology is said to be the most humanistic of all sciences and the most scientific of all humanities. It changes the way one processes information from around the world. It changes our perspectives towards human culture, society and diversity. It opens new vistas of knowledge, which is by far the most important demand of the Civil Services Examination by UPSC.


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