Making space for garbage cans: How emergent groups organize social media spaces to orchestrate widescale helping in a crisis


During the Covid-19 pandemic, citizens self-organized at an unprecedented scale to support vulnerable people in neighbourhoods, towns, and cities. Drawing on an in-depth study of an online volunteering group that emerged at the beginning of the pandemic and helped thousands of people in a UK city, we unpack how citizens co-construct social media spaces to orchestrate helping activity during a crisis. Conceptualizing a novel synthesis of classical garbage can theory and virtual space, we reveal how emergent groups use 'spatial partitioning' and 'spatial mapping' to create a multi-layered spatial architecture that distributes decision-making and invites impromptu choice occasions: spontaneous matchmaking, proximal chance connects, and speculative attraction. Our insights extend the study of emergent organizing and decision-making in crises. Furthermore, we advance a new line of theorizing which exploits garbage can theory, beyond its existing application in classical decision sciences, to posit a spatial view of organizing that paves the way for its novel applications in organization studies.

Publication DOI:
Divisions: College of Business and Social Sciences > Aston Business School > Marketing & Strategy
College of Business and Social Sciences > Aston Business School
Additional Information: This article is protected by copyright. The final publication is available via Sage at .
Uncontrolled Keywords: Emergent groups,Garbage can theory,Crisis,Social media,Spatiality,Partial organization,Topics
Publication ISSN: 1741-3044
Full Text Link:
Related URLs: https://journal ... 708406221103969 (Publisher URL)
PURE Output Type: Article
Published Date: 2022-05-26
Published Online Date: 2022-05-26
Accepted Date: 2022-05-26
Authors: Burke, Gary Thomas (ORCID Profile 0000-0002-1625-8095)
Omidvar, Omid (ORCID Profile 0000-0002-5232-7940)
Spanellis, Agnessa
Pyrko, Igor (ORCID Profile 0000-0003-0413-2310)



Version: Accepted Version

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