William C. Barley

 William Barley

Contact Information

3001 Lincoln Hall, MC-456
702 South Wright Street
Urbana, IL 61801
Assistant Professor
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William C. Barley is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. His research explores the processes enabling individuals from different disciplines to work together to achieve goals they would be unable to achieve alone. In modern organizations, it is impossible to fully understand these processes without recognizing the role that technologies play in the production and communication of meaning. To that end, Barley's work focuses on how individuals in organizations design and use technologies to collaborate across knowledge boundaries. His work draws on the theoretical traditions of symbolic interactionism, social constructivism, and practice perspectives from communication studies, organization studies, and science and technology studies.

Drawing primarily on fieldwork, Barley's research aims to capture collaborative work as it occurs within and across organizations. In various projects, he has examined collaboration among automobile engineers, weather researchers, and physicians and nurses working in hospitals. Although he relies heavily on ethnographic methods, he also employs other analytic techniques, both qualitative and quantitative, to uncover themes in his data. In particular, he has built and tested theory using social network analysis, regression models, and agent based simulation modeling.

Research Interests

  • Organizational communication
  • Collaboration and coordination
  • Data representation
  • Field studies of technology design, adoption, and use


  • Ph.D., Media, Technology, & Society, Northwestern University
  • M.A., Media, Technology, & Society, Northwestern University
  • B.S., Cognitive Science, University of California, San Diego

External URLs

Selected Publications

Journal Articles

Barley, William C Anticipatory Work: How the Need to Represent Knowledge Across Boundaries Shapes Work Practices Within Them Organization Science 26 6 2015, p. 1612-1628.
Barley, William C, Paul M. Leonardi, and Diane M. Bailey Engineering Objects for Collaboration: Strategies of Ambiguity and Clarity at Knowledge Boundaries Human Communication Research 38 3 2012, p. 280-308.

In The News

  • Although it is clear that the assembling groups with diverse perspectives and talents can provide opportunities for insight and efficient work, working in groups can present particular challenges.¬†Differing schedules, expectations, and definitions of success ca