Transnational action by companies can overcome social, cultural and political boundaries, but it can also evoke divide, since companies have an ambivalent relationship to nationality. Whether the domicile of the company or the nationality of the owners, the management or the workforce, whether products, internal identity constructions or narratives define the nationality of companies is by no means a priori or permanently determined. After the establishment of nation states and industrial modernity in North America and Europe in the last third of the 19th century, numerous tensions between domestic and foreign companies emerged. At the same time companies could increasingly use national attributions to initiate business or to attract investors.
The problem of “divided companies” becomes impressive in the case of authoritarian states and in times of war, when governments intervene in the property rights of companies, but even in peacetime, national and economic objectives sometimes conflict with each other. In 1968, the publicist Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber warned of the American challenge, when US multinationals increasingly acquired European companies and established production sites in Western Europe. Simultaneously, companies became central players in globalization since the 1970s, and even in the context of European integration, companies were by no means just objects of national politics, but actors within economic, social and cultural exchange processes. The five contributions of the section focus on different forms of divide as a result of national self-descriptions or attribution ranging from the 1880s to recent history.