College of the Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences





Demergasso-Bava Hall DBH252

Dr. Steve Arounsack is a visual anthropologist, filmmaker, and world builder whose ethnographic field experiences span 30 years. He has collaborated with some of the entertainment industry’s most renowned visual development teams to bring to life iconic Southeast Asian-themed characters and environments.

Notably, he served as the lead cultural advisor and visual anthropologist for the Oscar-nominated film Raya and the Last Dragon, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ first feature film inspired by the cultures of Southeast Asia. Before working on Hollywood films and global media, Dr. Arounsack produced documentaries that have aired on PBS and screened at major Asian American film festivals and international venues. His industry experiences have informed his teaching and workshops. He empowers youth around the world through storytelling presentations and workshops with partners such as Disney Global Public Policy, U.S. embassies, UNICEF, and the American Film Showcase.

Dr. Arounsack’s groundbreaking documentary Getting Lao’d (director, executive producer) examined the rise of modern Lao music and film; it was filmed over a 13-year period. Next-Gen Asian American Art (director, producer) garnered awards for Best Short Documentary, Best Directing, and Best Editing at the 2018 Sacramento Asian Pacific Film Festival; it premiered at CAAMFest and aired across the nation on PBS affiliates. Dr. Arounsack has chaired multiple national and international Southeast Asian film festivals and showcases.

Also evident in his work is an applied community focus. Dr. Arounsack developed several multi-media interfaces that showcased the refugee experience: war, resettlement, and healing. He served as the co-director (2016-2019) of the Center for Lao Studies’ Between 2 Worlds Project, the lead supervisor for Legacies of War’s multimedia projects (2007, 2018), and as the first editor-in-chief (1996) of Lao Vision Magazine, one of the nation’s first Lao American magazines.

In addition to his creative endeavors, Dr. Arounsack is a distinguished scholar. He earned the California State University system’s prestigious Wang Family Excellence Award for Outstanding Faculty Scholarship, one of the top faculty awards conferred by the largest public four-year university system in the United States. Dr. Arounsack was also part of the inaugural class of national Gates Millennium Scholars and earned a prestigious Sony Electronics award for innovative teaching. Dr. Arounsack is a professor of cultural anthropology and currently serves as the director of the Keck Visual Anthropology Lab (KVAL). He earned a Ph.D. in Ecology from the University of California, Davis.

Visual anthropology, Southeast Asian media (film and music) and culture, transnationalism, ethnoecology, documentary, and new media production.

Raya and the Last Dragon, 2021, Lead cultural advisor and visual anthropologist for the Southeast Asia Story Trust, (Walt Disney Animation Studios)

Trailer: YouTube

raya and the last dragon graphic

© 2020 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Next Gen Asian American Art (formerly, Halfway Home), 2019, Director and Producer (PBS, CAAMFest)

Documentary: YouTube

next gen art graphic


Getting Lao’D: the rise of modern Lao music and film, 2018, Director and Executive Producer (Film festivals: Seattle, Houston, Sacramento, Philadelphia, Indonesia, Laos)

Trailer: YouTube

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Arounsack, S. Steve. 2013. Constructing an Interactive Lao village Set during the Secret Bombings, (1965-1973). American Anthropologist 115(3): 502-507.

Arounsack, S. Steve. 2013. Ethnographic Snapshots: Field perspectives on the Transformation of Northern Laos between 1994 and 2008. Journal of Lao Studies 4(1): 43-73.

ANTH 2060: Introduction to Cultural Anthropology

ANTH 3000: Anthropology and Global Issues

ANTH 3106: Peoples and Cultures of Asia

ANTH 3030: World on a Plate: Humans and Food

ANTH 4030: Visual Anthropology

ANTH 4200: Applied Anthropology and Social Change

ANTH/GEOG 4250: Ethnoecology of Southeast Asia

HONS 3500: Information/Research/Analysis

HONS 3990: Capstone Research Proposal

HONS 4960: Honors Presentation Seminar