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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- emergent group
- garbage can
- partial organization
- social media