From strangers to social collectives? Sensemaking and organizing in response to a pandemic

Andreas Georgiou, David Murillo

Research output: Indexed journal article Articlepeer-review


The COVID-19 pandemic temporarily exposed the inadequacy of established institutions and markets to handle a multidimensional crisis, but it also revealed the spontaneous emergence of social collectives to mitigate some of its consequences. Building upon more than 600 responses from an open-ended survey and follow-up qualitative interviews, we seek to understand the spontaneous formation of social collectives in neighborhoods during the initial global lockdown. Applying the sensemaking lens, we theorize the process that prevented the collapse of sensemaking; motivated neighbors to comply with the pandemic-related restrictions; and inspired the development of collective initiatives and the sharing of resources, experiences, and a feeling of belonging. In doing so, we identify mechanisms that allow distributed sensemaking and organizing for resilience: widely shared and accepted cues and frames, simultaneous enactment of practices, embeddedness, visibility of actions, and sense of community. Contrary to the literature on local community organizing and entrepreneurship, which emphasizes the importance of shared values and beliefs, we reveal how the abovementioned mechanisms enable social collectives to emerge and build resilience in times of crisis, even in the absence of pre-existing ties and physical and social isolation. Implications for sensemaking, resilience, organization studies, and community psychology are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)621-633
Number of pages13
JournalEuropean Management Journal
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2023


  • Crisis
  • Organizing
  • Resilience
  • Sense of community
  • Sensemaking
  • Social collective


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