‘Because we are in an emergency situation, we are unable to meet with you’: Negotiating civic and government ‘playing spaces’ during the 2011 Christchurch Earthquake


  • Michael Bourk University of Otago
  • Kate Holland University of Canberra
  • Warwick Blood University of Canberra




In February 2011 a severe earthquake devastated Christchurch, New Zealand and surrounding Canterbury region, killing 185 people, injuring hundreds, and severely damaging the city. One prominent disaster response, the Christchurch Recovery Map (CRM), modelled on the concept of a crisis commons, was populated by social network users drawing upon their immediate local knowledge of the disaster site. This paper draws on in-depth interviews with government officials, an IT professional involved in advising government about crises, and a key organizer of the CRM. A key aim of the interviews was to understand how these actors perceived CRM, the value they attached to it and the challenges it posed for government agencies. Our analysis identified the following interrelated themes: Information and identity control; Generalized versus localized information; Transparency and trust; and Blurring the lines of expertise. CRM provides an example of the important role volunteer, citizen-led initiatives using new technologies can play in assisting official efforts to inform communities during and after a disaster.  The government rebuffed CRM’s key organizer, Tim McNamara, when he requested a meeting to discuss government concerns about the trustworthiness of CRM information. The paper explores what can be learned for future disaster preparedness from this clash by interviewing McNamara and key government officials.

Author Biographies

Michael Bourk, University of Otago

Michael Bourk is a Lecturer in Communication Studies within the Department of Media, Film and Communication at the University of Otago. His primary research interests included institutional frames and public policy narratives

Kate Holland, University of Canberra

Dr Kate Holland is a Senior Research Fellow in the News and Media Research Centre, Faculty of Arts and Design at the University of Canberra. Her primary research interests include media reporting and public understandings of health and risk issues

Warwick Blood, University of Canberra

Warwick Blood is Emeritus Professor at the University of Canberra. His primary research interests are risk communication, and he has published widely on the reporting of health issues such as suicide, mental illness, and influenza.


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