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 city in the United Kingdom, 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.

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Divisions: College of Business and Social Sciences > Aston Business School > Marketing & Strategy
College of Business and Social Sciences > Aston Business School
Additional Information: © The Author(s) 2022. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License ( which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (
Uncontrolled Keywords: crisis,emergent group,garbage can,partial organization,social media,spatiality,Strategy and Management,Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management,Management of Technology and Innovation
Publication ISSN: 1741-3044
Last Modified: 28 Feb 2024 08:17
Date Deposited: 27 May 2022 14:53
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Related URLs: https://journal ... 708406221103969 (Publisher URL)
http://www.scop ... tnerID=8YFLogxK (Scopus 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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Version: Published Version

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