Kenneth Burke in Nonsymbolic motion/symbolic action essay put action in a symbolic perspective. For Burke, action is symbolic, and action differentiated from motion when we name it. so it becomes and exists with the language (that is conventional and arbitrary.)
if action is symbolic, then what is a symbol? lets take the webster definition here: something that stands for or suggests something else by reason of relationship, association, convention, or accidental resemblance.
In this sense humanbeings act, things move. He crystallize his ideas with three axioms:
There can be motion without action.
There can be no action without motion.
But symbolic action is not reducible to terms of sheer motion, (symbolicity involves not just a difference of degree, but a motivational difference in kind). [p. 145]
at this point the answer to the question of who/what is acting is easy to grab: humanbeings. so how about the bees, or ants that have some signal systems, or a kind of language? he thinks that their primitive language capability is inborn, and animals can not talk about what they talk. he gives a funny cicero/dog example.
secondly how action takes place? Action takes place when we name our movements (take place) and objects around us. it is a kind of duplication. duplication is immitation, a representation matter. duplication is so basic to the relation between motion and symbolicity, nothing of a moment seems quite complete unless we have rounded things out by translation into symbols of some sort, either scientific, aesthetic, practical or ritualistic.[page 154]
so what kind of actions can we talk about? if action is symbolic, we can sort the actions like symbols: scientific, aesthetic, practical, ritualistic actions.
while he mentions Santayana’s realm of essence, he gives the idea of his ‘Self’. Self is a combination of person (symbolic action) and physiologial body (nonsymbolic motion). these two can interact in three ways: consistently (this therefore that), anthitetically (this however that) and ventitiously (this and that).
Burke -even stated that it is not a perfect match- can make such analogies with motion/action pair: matter/mind, matter/spirit, unconscious/conscious, matter/form, body/soul.
what kind of implications can we get from Burke’s perspective to design?
the motion/action(symbol) pair is an interesting touch. in every design project, designer should define his/her subject matter according to the problem. defining the subject matter corresponds to the action in Burke’s sense. But how can we define the design process from beginning to end with respect to this pair? Design process in Burkean terminology consists of a dynamic relation between action and motion. Form and how will it be use can be defined as symbolic action, whereas the matter and function as motion. but it is hard to define a precise line between action and motion.they re different in kind,but tightly related. motion/action can be duplication, imitation, implication. the attitude he mention corresponds to the context.
how about design as language? every artefact(graphic to environment) has got its own language. it should have its grammar(shape,motion), its narrative structure (scenario of use), and semantics(meaning).