The article focuses on some dynamics affecting the public in Italy in connection with the financial and economic crisis. The hypothesis is that, faced with a growing desire for state, processes of institutional mediation underway are further weakening. The analysis goes into depth in some Italian policy cases: university and secondary school on a national level and vocational training policies in a regional context. These cases show rather critical phenomena as far as the public is concerned: the debate on research and knowledge is impoverishing; the change in the structure of the state is teetering between the possibility of solving secular problems and the risk of further endangering a collective service; and there are many signals of privatisation of citizenship. In the conclusions, some interpretive points on the themes of public, future and democracy are developed. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.