The prevailing wisdom of both the social science literature and of social movement activists postulates that the institutionalization of social movements is a conservatizing tendency. "The iron law of oligarchy," Robert Michels' concept, is invoked as the rule of thumb for social movement transformation.

From my participant observation study of STOP, an urban rape crisis center, I have drawn different conclusions. In that case study, it appears that institutionalization undermines oligarchy and conservatism, rather than contributing to them.

Employing Oberschall's resource mobilization theory of social movement development, I suggest that institutionalization fosters social change efforts at STOP by ensuring organizational stability and resource availability. Second, I propose that institutionalization enables STOP to resist co-optation by providing its participants with material, symbolic, and emotional rewards for organizational loyalty. Finally, I conclude that at STOP institutionalization has inhibited the formation of informal elites, or what Jo Freeman has termed the "tyranny of structurelessness."

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