Legal sociology is an empiric sub-discipline of the law that is primarily interested in observing the emergence and functioning of the law from an objective perspective. It is only in a second step that a change of perspective occurs, from objective description to normative prescription. Accordingly, the legal sociologist is wearing two hats: the hat of a social scientist who is observing the law from an external sociological perspective and the hat of a jurist who is pondering the gained insights from a system-internal legal perspective and who eventually makes recommendations for improving the law’s workings. The law, as an autopoietic sub-system of society, will understand the legal sociologist’s recommendations based on its own system-rationality, and then autonomously decide what to do with them.
A legal sociology perspective can be useful in analysing how structural change impacts on the interaction between law and society and the functioning of direct democracy in Switzerland. News selection through personalisation technologies and other forms of artificial intelligence potentially interferes with the concept of direct democracy, which presupposes the existence of citizens who are competent to take informed decisions on a diverse range of matters of political interest. The Swiss model of direct democracy depends on societal preconditions, which it cannot guarantee itself and on cultural resources that need to be renewed continuously. The resources that direct democracy needs for its reproduction are citizens’ capabilities to build their own independent opinions on the many political issues they are supposed to take decisions on at the ballot box. According to the Constitution, two institutions are primarily responsible for enabling citizens to meet the requirements of this task: a system of generally accessible public education and a system of public service broadcasting. Under current law, the SRG is in charge of the latter. The raison d’être of the SRG is the fulfilment of a public service mandate requiring it to guarantee high quality and diverse information and to contribute to cohesion between the different cultures in the country. The SRG can discharge this duty only if its programmes are able to reach the entire population. Personalisation of content – a potentially tempting business strategy in the competition (with transnational platform corporations) for user attention – would probably contradict this aim. However, further research on content personalisation and how this technology could be utilised in order to bring high quality information to the attention of younger audiences could be useful.