Mattijs Smits, PhD Candidate

photo of Mattijs Smits

Mattijs holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Utrecht and an Masters of Science in Management of Agro-ecological Knowledge and Social change from Wageningen University, both from the Netherlands. Mattijs’ previous research focused on small scale renewable energy technologies (in particular pico-hydropower) and how these relate to energy policies at the national level in the Lao PDR. His PhD research, which he commenced in July 2009 at the School of Geosciences, University of Sydney, builds on this experience, but addresses broader questions about energy transitions in the Mekong region. He will spend one-third of his studies at the Faculty of Social Science at Chiang Mai University as a cotutelle (double degree) student.

His thesis looks at modernity and development in Thailand and Laos through the lens of energy and social change. The rationale for this study is the ever increasing importance of energy as enabling modernisation on the one hand, and posing large environmental, social and economic problems on the other. Although the countries in this study are culturally similar, Laos is quickly developing to become a net energy producer, while Thailand is a main energy demand centre in the region.

The starting point of his study is the analysis of four atypical case studies of local ‘energy trajectories’, defined as analytical chronologies of the material, political, social and spatial dimensions of changing energy systems and choices in specific localities. However, the processes, mechanism and conflicts occurring in these areas extend beyond the localities, and relate to debates about rural electrification, energy policy, up to questions about modernity and development.

Besides trying to contribute to better local and national energy policy, this study also engages with academic debates about the nature of energy transitions, scale in research methodology, political ecology, science and technology studies, energy sociology, and development studies.

Besides his PhD research, Mattijs is also a reviewer at Energy Policy, active in the Mekong Energy and Ecology Network and involved in tutoring at the University of Sydney. Follow Mattijs and his work on

Languages: Dutch, French (intermediate), German (intermediate), Lao (intermediate), Thai (intermediate)
Supervisor: Prof. Philip Hirsch
Assoc. Supervisors: Assoc. Prof. Phil McManus, Dr Tira Foran
Supervisor at Chiang Mai University: Assoc. Prof. Santita Ganjanapan

School of Geosciences
Madsen Building (F09), Rm 474
Phone: +61 2 9351 2357

Selected Publications

Journal articles

  • Smits, M., 2012, The Benefits and Complexities of Distributed Electricity Generation: Two Energy Trajectories in Laos and Thailand. Forum for Development Studies, special issue on Emerging Pathways of Energy Governance, Politics and Transitions in the Mekong Region, 39 (2): 185-208.
  • Smits, M., 2011, Progressive contextualisation of energy practices and trajectories: a case study in Thailand. Rural Society, 20 (3), special issue on Energy and Rurality.
  • Smits and Bush, 2010. A light left in the dark: A light left in the dark: the practice and politics of pico-hydropower in the Lao PDR. Energy Policy, 38, 116-127.

Conference papers

  • Smits, 2012. The tensions in sustainable energy discourses: civil society, regionalisation and uneven development in Southeast Asia. 32nd International Geographical Congress of the International Geographical Union (IGU): Down to Earth, 26–30 August, 2012, Cologne, Germany.
  • Smits, 2012. Iconic case studies: beyond the “typical” in the study of material and discursive linkages of marginal places. Institute of Australian Geographers Conference 2012: Inspiring connections, 2–4 July, 2012, Sydney, Australia.
  • Smits, 2012. Power Sector development in Laos: Big Picture. MEE Net 1st International Conference: ‘Know Your Power: Towards a Participatory Approach for Sustainable Power Development in the Mekong Region, 18–19 January, 2012, Bangkok, Thailand.
  • Smits, 2011. Hydropower and the Green Economy in Laos: Sustainable Developments? Conference: Planning for the Future: Decision Making on Energy Policy. Organised by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, 8-9 December 2011, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
  • Smits, M., 2011. Using Assemblage Theory to Explain Changing Energy Practices: Examples from Thailand and Laos. RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2011: The Geographical Imagination, 30 August – 2 September 2011, London, United Kingdom.
  • Smits, M., 2011. Shaping Thailand’s Energy Future: Implications for Local and National Electricity Policy and Infrastructure in the Aftermath of the Power Plant Conflicts in Prachuab Kiri Khan. 11th International Conference on Thai Studies, 26-28 July 2011, Bangkok, Thailand.
  • Smits, M., 2011. A tale of two transitions: a multi-level perspective on energy transitions in the Lao PDR and its challenges. IHDP-APN Conference: Experiments, system innovation and sustainability transitions in Asia, 9-11 January 2011, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
  • Smits, M., 2010. A fresh look at energy debates in Southeast Asia: Contextualising the energy trajectory of Mae Kampong, Thailand. SEAGA 2010 Conference: Understanding the changing space, place and cultures of Asia, 23-26 November 2010, Hanoi, Vietnam
  • Susanto, J., Smits, M., 2010, Towards a Locally Adapted Rural Electrification Assessment Framework: A Case Study of the Lao PDR. GMSTEC 2010: International Conference for a Sustainable Greater Mekong Subregion, 26-27 August 2010, Bangkok, Thailand
  • Smits, M., 2010. The importance of local distribution and support networks for rural off-grid electrification: the case of market-driven pico-hydropower in the Lao PDR. PEA-AIT International Conference on Energy and Sustainable Development: Issues and Strategies (ESD 2010), 2-4 June, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
  • Shaw, S., Smits, M., 2010. Moving from policy to practice: evidence on agroenergy in the Mekong. Lead discussion paper of the Agroenergy Panel. ChATSEA-RCSD Conference on Revisiting Agrarian Transformations in Southeast Asia: Empirical, Theoretical and Applied Perspectives, 13-15 May 2010, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Book chapters

Smits, M., 2012, Hydropower and the Green Economy in Laos: Sustainable Developments? in Hezri, A., Hofmeister, W. (Eds.), 2012, Towards a Green Economy: In Search of Sustainable Energy Policies for the Future. Singapore: Konrad Adenauer Stiftung

Unpublished material

Smits, M., 2008, Neglected decentralized rural electrification production in the Lao PDR: a technography of pico-hydropower analysed in a political ecology framework. MSc thesis, Wageningen University, the Netherlands.


  • University of Sydney International Students Scholarship (USydIS)
  • Postgraduate Research Prize for Outstanding Academic Achievement, Faculty of Science, University of Sydney
  • Oral Presentation Award at GMSTEC 2010: International Conference for a Sustainable Greater Mekong Subregion, Bangkok
  • WUF-KLV Master Thesis Award Social Sciences 2008, Wageningen