Sociology Optional Preparation Guide

Hi,
Many of you asked about my approach for my optional subject of sociology. So, I am writing this post. This optional is relatively easy. Most of us are generally familiar with the topics which are part of syllabus (except the thinkers part), so it is likely that this subject is familiar to every aspirant.
However, due to very this fact, some aspirants become complacent and take many topics for granted. So, you should try to read thoroughly and should never overlook the core concepts (for example, while studying caste – you should not overlook the very basic definition and perspectives on caste. You should ask yourself – What is caste? How it has changed historically? What is the theoretical framework lying beneath it? Is that framework accepted as it is by various social thinkers? If not, how and why?)
I am writing this post considering two way of preparing for sociology – one approach is that you are using our book Essential Sociology (I am editing this post and including mention of our book after many of you put this question that 'whether this book alone will be sufficient for the optional?') as the basic reference and the other approach is the one in which you are not using Essential Sociology as a source.
1. In the first approach, many of you have asked what else you should read apart from our book Essential Sociology. To answer to that – we have covered more than enough in our book and we are pretty sure that the book can deal with all possible questions in the exam. But at the same time, it is also advisable that one should read maximum and from multiple sources to have a deeper clarity of the topics. For this reason, if one has sufficient time before one is planning to write Mains exam, following other sources, apart from Essential Sociology, can also be referred:

  1. New NCERTs of class 11th/12th: They are very lucid and very basic material and are suitable for absolute beginners. They also carry examples from day to day life (many of which very recent ones also), hence, they give you a good start. According to me, new NCERTs are much well designed than the older ones. They have less factual errors and have a better flow. Try to read them again and again during various phases of your optional preparation. (Old NCERTs were more suitable for the older syllabus and hence may not be as useful, but if you have a hell lot of time, you may read them as well).
  2. A good Sociology Dictionary by Penguin or Sage publication (some pirated soft copies available online which aspirant may search/download at their own risk as I personally don't recommend this route). Read any one dictionary of Sociology cover to cover i.e. every single page. Dictionaries are helpful because, they provide the fundamental definitions of the topics of syllabus. They also carry reference to the works of important social thinkers which can be used as examples in exam. Both of these dictionaries are relatively simple in language than the Oxford one. One may read the dictionary thoroughly from first to last page and note down those terms and topics which are either part of syllabus (directly or indirectly) or have appeared in previous years' exams. Some references to case studies may also be found there in these dictionaries.
  3. Sociology: Themes and Perspectives (Haralambos an Holborn) (Blue Cover) – This is a very useful and comprehensive book for paper 1. But it is about heavier one with more than 1000 pages. However, it is a very updated one and covers almost all aspects of syllabus. Following topics: Basic Theoritical Perspectives, Aging, Research Methods, Stratification and Inequality, Gender, Poverty and Exclusion, Religion, Family, Power and Politics, Education etc are covered very well. If you have patience too read, it is an extremely useful book. If you are not reading Giddens, you may read this one. Either will do.
  4. Newspapers and other GS source and selective noting down of events related to Sociology. For example, latest data on Census, gender issues, statistics on poverty or inequality, caste discrimination incidents which are widely reported in media, news for tribal development and so on.

In the Second approach (i.e if you are not referring to Essential Sociology book), I would suggest following material –

  1. New NCERTs on sociology – Read this section in the First Approach above.
  2. Sociology: (Haralambos and Heald) (the one with reddish cover and not so thick) – For the beginners it is a good book as one gets familiar with the core concepts and some landmark studies in the field of sociology. This book is a bit outdated in terms of the data and studies it uses as it has not been revised since long. But at the same time, the case studies it uses are classical ones and are still referred by the social scientists and students alike. Try to match the topics of syllabus and read selectively. Its writing style is extremely lucid and most of the concepts are explained very well.
  3. Sociology (Anthony Giddens) – While Haralambos (red/orange cover) gives you a conceptual framework, Giddens Sociology is more about the contemporary perspectives in sociology. It gives a fresh and novel perspectives through recent examples and illustrations. It helps you in developing a unique sociological perspective. If you are reading Haralmbos and Giddens, then in that case you need not refer the next source at number 4 that I am mentioning next.
  4. Sociology: Themes and Perspectives (Haralambos an Holborn) (Blue Cover) – This is a very useful and comprehensive book for Paper 1 of Sociology Optional. But it is a bit heavier book with more than 1000 pages which sometimes perturbs aspirants. To this, I would say that one should read very selectively as per syllabus. It is a very updated book and covers almost all aspects of syllabus of Paper 1. Following topics: Basic Theoretical Perspectives i.e. thinkers part, Aging, Research Methods, Stratification and Inequality, Gender, Poverty and Exclusion, Religion, Family, Power and Politics, Education etc are covered very well. If you have patience to read, it is an extremely useful book.
  5. Sociology Dictionary (Penguin/Sage Publication) – Regarding utility of this source, please refer to the concerned section in the First Approach above.
  6. IGNOU Notes (only graduation level, not post graduation) – They carry more or less the whole syllabus, even of Paper 2. They are especially useful for the Paper 2 as one generally doesn't find the topics anywhere else and that too compiled in one source.
  7. Other supplementary sources – Apart from these, for specific topics, you may refer to some other books as well. For example, for Mead (you may refer the Sociology book by Ritzer), for Indian thinkers, you may refer a book by B K Nagala (though this book doesn't explain thinkers in a very coherent way and hence, this book has its own issues) and so on. Some topics like Social Background of Indian Nationalism, Modernization of Indian Tradition etc may have to be researched separately.
  8. Newspapers and other GS source and selective noting down of events related to Sociology. Regarding utility of this source, please refer to the concerned section in the First Approach above.

Finally, as I always say, the exam is not only about reading books, but also about managing what you have read. Try to consolidate what you have read at a single place as it is easier to revise that during exam. Making your own notes also serves as a kind of writing practice and boosts your confidence as well.
From the day one, you should keep in mind that since the subject is about society and its relationship with individuals, so, you should be very keen observer of it. Whether there is some news article (say on marital trends, caste, family, demography, tribes, polity, socio-economic indicators of development and so on), some development in your neighborhood or even a personal observation, you should try to think over these and note down a thing or two. Such illustrations about society and its working will come handy in form of examples while attempting the questions in the mains paper and will definitely fetch you some extra marks.
If you have any suggestions or queries regarding sociology optional, please comment below this post.
Best of luck!Nitin Sangwan

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