In the modern western world, class is the primary form of social stratification. In a class system, social status is primarily shaped by one's wealth and income, which then dictates one's status as part of the lower, middle, or upper class. One of the key differences between a class system...
In the modern western world, class is the primary form of social stratification. In a class system, social status is primarily shaped by one's wealth and income, which then dictates one's status as part of the lower, middle, or upper class. One of the key differences between a class system and a caste system, however, is that a class system is open to social mobility. There is the potential for individuals to ascend the class system, rising from a lower to a higher place in society. Likewise, the same applies in reverse: just as it is possible to advance in society, it is also possible to descend, falling from elite status into poverty.
A caste system, on the other hand, is a far more closed system, based entirely on social status and one's role in society. A caste is something one is born into, and in this sense, it defines one's place in society and even one's identity. Additionally, whereas in a class system, it is wealth and income that serve as the primary engines that determine one's status and prestige, the same does not apply to caste. Regardless of whether a member of the religious caste might be wealthy or poor, this would not change their identity as part of the religious caste, nor would it change the privileges and status associated therein. One peasant can be a prosperous landowner in their own right while another can be living in poverty and barely on the edge of subsistence: both would still be defined by their status as peasants.
Finally, slavery is defined by a concept of ownership, by which human beings are reduced to the status of property, owned by another person, and able to be bought and sold. From this perspective, where class and caste presents a hierarchy that organizes society as a whole (with differing levels of prestige and status connected with different levels on the hierarchy), slavery should be understood as something different altogether. Even with an extreme example such as that of the Ottoman Empire, which featured the Janissary Corps, personal slave-soldiers answerable only to the Sultan (and commanding vast wealth and political power), slaves are not permitted genuine self-autonomy but are entirely beholden to the will of another.