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How to Prepare Anthropology as an optional subject for UPSC?

Anthropology is an optional subject of UPSC. It’s an interesting subject to study. Many IAS toppers have chosen anthropology as an optional subject and secured good marks in exams. Marks of optional subjects helps in securing good rank also. It’s important to study dedicatedly for optional subjects. First thing that candidates need to do is understand the syllabus of subjects.

Full details of the anthropology subject are given below in the article.

Syllabus of Anthropology

Syllabus of anthropology is short and easy to prepare. Anthropology subjects contain both biological and social topics therefore The biology-related topics like in physical anthropology are scoring as they are not subjective.

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:

  • Social-cultural Anthropology.
  • Biological Anthropology.
  • Archaeological Anthropology.
  • Linguistic Anthropology.

1.4 Human Evolution and emergence of Man

  • Biological and Cultural factors in human evolution.
  • Theories of Organic Evolution (PreDarwinian, Darwinian and Post-Darwinian).
  • 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

  • Plio-pleistocene hominids in South and East Africa – Australopithecines.
  • Homo erectus: Africa (Paranthropus), Europe (Homo erectus heidelbergensis), Asia (Homo erectus javanicus, Homo erectus pekinensis).
  • Neanderthal Man- La-Chapelle-auxsaints (Classical type), Mt. Carmel (Progressive type).
  • Rhodesian man.
  • Homo sapiens — Cromagnon, Grimaldi, and Chance led.

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:

  • Paleolithic
  • Mesolithic
  • Neolithic
  • Chalcolithic
  • Copper-Bronze Age
  • Iron Age

2.1 The Nature of Culture

  • The concept and characteristics of culture and civilization; Ethnocentrism vis-à-vis cultural Relativism.

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

2.3 Marriage: Definition and universality; Laws of marriage (endogamy, exogamy, hypergamy, hypogamy, incest taboo); Types of marriage (monogamy, polygamy, polyandry, group marriage). Functions of marriage; Marriage regulations (preferential, prescriptive and proscriptive); Marriage payments (bridewealth 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 Complementary Filiation; Descent and Alliance.

  1. Economic Organization
  • Meaning, scope, and relevance of economic anthropology; Formalist and Substantive debate; Principles governing the 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.
  • Political Organization and Social Control

4. Emergence and Growth of Anthropology in India

  • Contributions of the 18th, 19th, and early 20th Century scholar-administrators. Contributions of Indian anthropologists to tribal and caste studies.
  1. 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).
  1. Anthropological Theories
  • Classical evolutionism (Tylor, Morgan, and Frazer)
  • Historical particularism (Boas); Diffusionism (British, German and American)
  • Functionalism (Malinowski); Structural-functionalism (Radcliffe-Brown)
  • Structuralism (L’evi – Strauss and E.Leach)
  • Culture and personality (Benedict, Mead, Linton, Kardiner, and Cora – du Bois).
  • Neo-evolutionism (Childe, White, Steward, Sahlins, and Service)
  • Cultural materialism (Harris)
  • Symbolic and interpretive theories (Turner, Schneider, and Geertz)
  • Cognitive theories (Tyler, Conklin)
  • Postmodernism in anthropology

7. Culture, Language, and Communication

  • Nature, origin, and characteristics of language; verbal and non-verbal communication; social context of language use.
  1. Research Methods in Anthropology
  • Fieldwork tradition in anthropology
  • The distinction between technique, method, and methodology
  • Tools of data collection: observation, interview, schedules, questionnaire, Case study, genealogy, life-history, oral history, secondary sources of information, participatory methods.
  • Analysis, interpretation, and presentation of data.

9.1 Human Genetics

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

9.2 Mendelian genetics in the man-family study, single factor, multifactor, lethal, sublethal 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 aberrations – 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 metric 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-economic 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.

  1. Concept of human growth and development

Stages of growth – prenatal, natal, infant, childhood, adolescence, maturity, senescence.

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

Aging 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.

  1. Applications of Anthropology
  • Anthropology of sports, Nutritional anthropology, Anthropology in designing of defense and other equipment, Forensic Anthropology, Methods and principles of personal identification and reconstruction, Applied human genetics – Paternity diagnosis, genetic counseling and eugenics, DNA technology in diseases and medicine, serogenetics and cytogenetics in reproductive biology.


1.1 Evolution of the Indian Culture and Civilization

  • Prehistoric (Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic and Neolithic Chalcolithic). Protohistoric (Indus Civilization): Pre- Harappan, Harappan, and post Harappan cultures. Contributions of 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 ethnoarchaeology; Survivals and Parallels among the hunting, foraging, fishing, pastoral and peasant communities including arts and crafts producing communities.

  1. 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 — Varnashrama, Purushartha, Karma, Rina, and Rebirth.

3.2 Caste system in India

Structure, and characteristics, Varna and caste, Theories of origin of the caste system, Dominant caste, Caste mobility, Future of caste system, Jajmani system, Tribe- caste continuum.

3.3 Sacred Complex and Nature Man-Spirit Complex.

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

  1. Emergence and Growth of Anthropology 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

Significance 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 tribal populations and their distribution.

6.2 Problems of the Tribal Communities

Land alienation, poverty, indebtedness, low literacy, poor educational facilities, unemployment, underemployment, 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 urbanization 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 programs 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

  • Tribal areas, tribal policies, plans, programs of tribal development and their implementation. The concept of PTGs (Primitive Tribal Groups), their distribution, special programs 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.

Best booklist for the preparation of Anthropology optional

  1. Fossil Evidence by S Das.
  2. Physical anthropology by P Nath.
  3. Indian Anthropology by Nadeem Hasnain.
  4. Social Anthropology by D N Majumdar & T N Madan.
  5. Anthropology Theories by Makhan Jha.

Advantage of choosing anthropology as an optional subject

Anthropology is a good optional subject. Anthropology is scientific in nature so it can be described very deeply. There are many advantages to choosing anthropology as an optional subject. Some are described below:-

1. Short syllabus

Syllabus of anthropology is short. It can be covered easily. Candidates need to give 4 to 5 month to the subject and it can be prepared well. So, read the syllabus wisely and make a good strategy.

2. Easy to understand

Topics of anthropology are easy to understand. It’s an interesting subject to study. There are many topics General Studies like society and social justice and welfare of weaker sections of society can be covered through anthropology.

3. Candidate can score good

There is a chance to score good in exams by choosing anthropology as an optional subject. There are many toppers who have chosen anthropology as an optional subject and scored good marks in exams.

4. Good for science and engineering background students

The best thing about anthropology is that students from science and engineering can choose it and score well. So, the subject is made for all.

5. Current events can be added

Candidates can write through different perspectives in anthropology. They can add current events to make their answers even more effective.

Preparation of Anthropology optional paper for UPSC

There are 2 optional papers in UPSC of 250 marks each. Candidates have a chance to score well in optional papers. Anthropology is a popular optional subject among UPSC aspirants.UPSC(2020) topper Shubham Kumar chose anthropology optional subject and achieved good marks in examination.

Here are some tips about how to make a proper strategy about the preparation of anthropology.

1. Analyse the syllabus

For every subject you choose in UPSC as an optional subject, the first important thing which every aspirant must do is understand and analyse the syllabus first. UPSC is the toughest and very reputed examination. Every candidate should study dedicatedly. If you are going to prepare for anthropology, read the syllabus wisely. After analysing and understanding the syllabus, make proper strategy for preparation.

2. Use of diagrams

Anthropology is scientific in nature. Candidates can write answers with the help of diagrams and flowchart. By making flowchart and diagrams, there is a chance to score excellent in exams. It saves time also. Understand the question and analyse where diagrams can be added.

3. Understand the concept

Whatever subject you prepare, understand the concept first. It is important to clear concepts for remembering for a long time. It is an interesting subject to study. Conceptual clarity is very important for understanding the topics.

4. Solve previous year papers

Solve previous year question papers as much as you can. Candidates can get an idea of which topics most repeat in exams. You can get a clear idea about the most important topics of anthropology through previous year question papers.

5. Make good notes

Make proper notes topic wise. Notes help you to understand which topic you already prepared and on which topic you need to focus more. Add diagrams and flowchart in your notes. It helps you to understand and remember the topics.

6. Answer writing practice

Answer writing practice is very important for scoring good marks in the examination. Candidates can score good marks by showing their good writing skills. Regular practice of answer writing is an essential part of UPSC. Use of diagrams and flowchart makes the answer more effective.

7. Case studies

Case Studies are an important part in anthropology. Cases can be included in every answer if required. If you are writing about Cultural Relativism, you can add the Criminal Tribes Act. You can add recent case studies in the answers. Prepare notes by adding case studies. If a candidate finds difficulties in preparation can join a coaching. Legacy IAS Academy Bangalore is the Best IAS Academy of India which provides quality education for UPSC exam. There are many online and offline separate classes for optional subjects also.

8. Current Affairs

Current affairs is important for anthropology also. Read the newspaper daily to get national and international news. Newspapers are a good source for preparing current affairs.

Anthropology is an interesting subject to study. Anthropology is scientific in nature, so students from any stream can choose it as an optional subject. By using diagrams and flowchart there is a chance to secure good marks. Hard work and dedication is important for every subject you choose. So, work hard and study well.